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Transportation and Energy: Leveraging ROW for Renewable Energy – Opportunities for DOTs and Local Governments to Consider

by Chris Nazar, AICP Transportation Services Group Director and Melissa Savage, MPA – Transportation Electrification Leader with CDM Smith

In recent years, several state DOTs have planned and implemented energy projects (mostly solar power) with the goals of improving energy reliability and security and reducing departmental electricity costs. In many cases, these agencies are striving to achieve statewide carbon reduction goals. Maryland DOT, Minnesota DOT, and other transportation agencies such as E-470 in Colorado (https://www.e-470.com/our-commitment/sustainability) have programs and several states DOTs are planning to incorporate renewable energy along ROW. These programs help to optimize underutilized land and generate clean renewable energy for the agency. In some cases, this is being done through community solar gardens.

These state efforts have been bolstered with guidance and funding through IIJA and the Inflation Reduction Act at the federal level. In fact, last year the Federal Highway Administration issued updated guidance related to ways state DOTs can leverage highway right-of-way to address climate change, equitable communications access, and energy reliability and security. The guidance describes ways state DOTs can use ROW for renewable energy generation like solar arrays and wind turbines, alternative charging facilities (including EVs) and facilitate broadband deployment (dig once). Other approved uses of the ROW include carbon sequestration through vegetation management and pollinator habitats to encourage and improve migratory paths for butterflies and other pollinators. The following link provides the guidance and ideas:
https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/real_estate/right-of-way/corridor_management/alternative_uses_guidance.cfm

There are also several examples of local governments working with state DOTs to leverage ROW for community solar projects as well as for broadband deployment, especially for local governments in rural communities. Local governments are also looking at electric vehicle/renewable/battery storage issues, and how they can access NEVI discretionary grant funding (https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/bipartisan-infrastructure-law/nevi_formula_program.cfm) to support community charging/alternative fuels projects as well as opportunities in the Inflation Reduction Act.

  

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