Adaptive reuse of power plants: an ambitious vision for the future

Published on Monday, 25 September 2017

Already six years ago, the American Clean Skies Foundation - an independent nonprofit working for cleaner energy in the U.S. transportation and power sectors - had released a report predicting that environmental and economic conditions would force the retirement of old coal-fired plants, presenting developers with prime adaptive reuse opportunities. In particular, the “Repurposing Legacy Power Pants - Lessons for the Future” report drawn up in 2011 predicted that dozens of aging coal-fired power plants would be retired in the coming decade. It pointed out that many of them occupy strategic locations in urban areas, often with access to valuable waterfront, so these sites present tremendous opportunities for new civic and private uses such as riverfront housing, shops and offices – as well as museums, parks and other community amenities.

Being an American organization, the study essentially reported cases of adaptive reuse of power plants in the United States. However, it pointed out that the radical changes that the energy system was facing, especially in the thermoelectric power industry, would have led also on the other side of the Atlantic to the constant growth of the number of non-competitive generation plants in the energy market, whose function was to be reconsidered and destined for other kind of activity. And it described a particularly significant example for the magnificence and size of the building, which became a "cult" over the years: the Battersea power plant.

The report also provided advice to developers. It warned that experience with past redevelopments suggests the need to plan early for site reuse and adopt a collaborative approach that assures the involvement of all stakeholders, including incumbent utilities and power companies. Clarity of vision is crucial, but it is equally important to develop a realistic business plan with feasible financing mechanisms that can cover the considerable costs of site cleanup and redevelopment.

According to ACSF, repurposing old generating stations presents special challenges but also creates opportunities to build stronger communities and foster economic growth. Capitalising on these opportunities can help communities create a healthier environment, foster new business activity and job development, and bring retired power plant properties back onto the tax rolls. It observed that the case studies described embody an ambitious vision for the future. They revitalise whole neighborhoods and regions and harness history for education and tell the remarkable story of how the country was electrified. Each project design also reflects community goals, civic pride, and future aspirations.

The same goals that Enel set for itself when it launched the Futur-e project, which aims to achieve - with the broad involvement of all stakeholders - the redevelopment of 23 plants, for a total of 13 GW of non-renewable generation. After two years, the project has become a best practice in terms of sustainability and circular economy, also acknowledged at the international level.

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