Mountain of discarded turbines prompts bond push
Gone from the wind
Assemblyman Andrew Goodell wasn’t sure exactly what he was seeing off the side of Interstate 86 near Bath.
Intrigued, the Jamestown Republican turned his car around to investigate.
What he saw was a pile of discarded wind turbine blades more than 50 feet high strewn more than length of a football field.
Earlier this year, Goodell and state Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, proposed legislation to create a state requirement that wind and solar companies provide the state Office of Renewable Energy Siting or Public Service Commission with reclamation bonds to decommission wind and solar projects at the end of their useful lives.
“Although there are massive governmental incentives for the construction of green energy projects, there is virtually no consideration regarding the long-term environmental impact when these projects are no longer financially viable,” Goodell said.
Many local governments have long required reclamation bonds before they will permit oil and gas wells, and many also require reclamation bonds to pay the costs of decommissioning wind and solar projects.
Reclamation bonds are common for wind and solar projects in Chautauqua County, though Mark Geise, county IDA director, said during a recent meeting that the IDA is considering doing more to help with the decommissioning of the projects once the lifespan of the development is up.
“We’re going to look around the state to see what other municipalities are doing to ensure that what we’re suggesting or recommending to municipalities will ensure that in the future these projects get decommissioned appropriately,” Geise said.
While the issue has largely been a local one, West Virginia passed legislation earlier this year that requires the state Department of Environmental Protection to determine bond amounts for wind and solar generation facilities based on the total disturbed acreage of land where the facilities are sited, minus the salvage value. Companies in West Virginia that do not submit a decommissioning bond can be fined up to $10,000 for the first day and up to $500 for each additional day.
The Pennsylvania Legislature is also debating reclamation bonds for wind and solar power projects. Senate Bill 284, sponsored by Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, would require new state bonding requirements on solar electric generation, biomass, coal waste and other renewable energy projects of any type included in the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards, plus other products and services.
Yaw’s legislation passed the Senate Environmental Resource and Energy Committee in a party line vote in June and was removed from the table in September so that it can be considered by the full Senate. A vote has not been scheduled.
Goodell and Borrello, as was reported by The Post-Journal back in October, want to require solar and wind energy developers to post a financial bond or similar financial security with the state Public Service Commission or with the Office of Renewable Energy as a condition to obtaining a construction permit. The county representatives say replacing old blades — as has been seen in Bath — is a costly process when one considers transporting them from the field and then finding a place to store and eventually recycle the blades. Thermoset plastics are difficult to recycle, so many windmill blades currently do not have much scrap value and are not very appealing to recyclers. Therefore, many spent turbine blades are piling up in landfills or other disposal sites.
Solar panels typically have a commercial life-expectancy of about 25-30 years, after which the solar energy production has declined significantly below the original production levels. Once the solar panels are no longer commercially viable, the panels need to be removed and/or replaced. The difficulty with recycling solar panels reflects the fact that they are constructed from many parts all used together in one product. Separating those materials and recycling them each in a unique way is a complex and expensive process. Although the New York Environmental Conservation Law requires reclamation bonds for natural gas wells, gravel pits, mining operations, and other activities that have a substantial reclamation cost, there is no comparable state requirement for solar or wind projects.
“Our environmental objective should always be to minimize the overall long-term adverse impact on the environment of any energy project,” Borrello said earlier this year. “It is therefore important to recognize, for example, that wind towers require as many as 60 truckloads of concrete in their base, huge blades constructed of fiberglass and plastic, and substantial amounts of copper, steel, electronics, and other materials that require large amounts of energy to mine, refine, manufacture, and transport. The initial environmental impact of these massive wind towers is substantial. Although windmills do not require fuel to operate, they have a substantial environmental impact on wildlife, including killing birds and bats and producing low frequency sound that affects other animals. And there is a substantial environmental impact at the end of the useful life of these “green” energy projects, when massive blades from windmills or toxic chemicals in solar panels need to be addressed. This legislation helps to ensure that the long-term environmental impacts are addressed up front.”