by Jon Sanders
Director of the Center for Food, Power, and Life, Research Editor | John Locke Foundation
This week Bloomberg Energy issued an attention-grabbing report on a serious waste problem with wind turbines: retired turbine blades are clogging up landfills.
This problem is only going to get worse, as Bloomberg reports, because right now the blades at the end of their lifespan are from wind power built over a decade ago. There’s been a fivefold increase in installing wind turbines since, powered in large part by federal and state incentives and mandates. What are we going to do when all those turbine blades reach their end?
This problem isn’t news to John Locke Foundation readers. We discussed the huge problem of turbine blade disposal in January. In December research intern Nick Wilkinson wrote about wind power’s noise pollution, visual pollution, disruptions of aircraft and military radar, and turbine blade waste. We’ve also recently discussed two Harvard studies that found transitioning to wind and solar would require so much land that it would actually contribute to global warming.
JLF readers have also read about studies showing that transitioning away from nuclear energy costs lives, that transitioning into more expensive energy costs lives, and that because of intermittency issues, wind and solar are actually the most costly ways of reducing emissions. We have also discussed the problem of wind power “takings.” That’s the euphemism used by the Obama-era U.S. Fish and Wildlife Division to refer to eagles slaughtered by wind turbines, as the division approved permits for such slaughter for 30 years, up from five.
What makes disposing of wind turbine blades so bad for landfills and the environment? All these things:
In short, disposing of wind turbines is a significant problem, with negative impacts on communities and the environment.
It is reminiscent of the negative community and environmental impacts of solar panel disposal. Carolina Journal has reported for years about chemical waste components from used solar panels, including such things as gallium arsenide, tellurium, silver, crystalline silicon, lead, and also GenX and related compounds in solar panel components.
It is for these reasons that JLF has written for years about the prudent and reasonable policy of decommissioning and reclamation bonds for solar and wind facilities. It is something that was added to House Bill 589 in 2017, a significant electricity reform and compromise bill, but the solar lobby succeeded in having that section removed.
Decommission and reclamation are standard environmental protection for other land uses. It’s so noncontroversial, in fact, that the Bureau of Land Management under President Barack Obama required full reclamation bonding for solar and wind energy projects on public lands.
Fortunately, last year the General Assembly passed decommissioning for solar and wind facilities. HB 329 requires the Environmental Management Commission (EMC) to come up with rules for the decommissioning of solar and wind power plants by January 1, 2022. The law requires EMC to consider many factors in determining the rules for decommissioning, including such considerations as:
The key to EMC drawing up proper regulations governing decommissioning and reclamation of wind and solar facilities, however, is to make sure that the renewable energy lobby, solar and wind companies, and solar and wind advocates don’t capture this regulatory process.
The bill requires EMC to “establish a stakeholder process for development of the regulatory program.” The problem there is, in practice the reliance on “stakeholders” is an invitation to regulatory capture.
The term “stakeholder” is misleading. If you have a business interest is in the regulated industry, you’re considered a stakeholder. If you’re an ordinary person going about your daily business living and breathing the air and drinking the water and paying taxes and utility bills, you’re not:
Politically speaking, the citizens themselves — though they have the most at stake — aren’t thought of as stakeholders. In Lincoln’s memorable description, the American system is “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.” On the other hand, stakeholders tend to be of the lobbies, by the politicians, for the special interests.
Even if there is a consumer advocate involved, their single voice is given equal weight to the chorus of all the many other, lesser stakeholders involved. If democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what’s for lunch, then regulation via “stakeholders” is a wolf, a coyote, a lion, a jackal, and a lamb choosing whose constituency bears which costs of providing dinner.
Last year, for example, Gov. Roy Cooper’s Department of Environmental Quality identified 164 “stakeholders” in Cooper’s “Clean Energy Plan.” These were “experts and key stakeholders with a vested interest in clean energy.” It took two pages to list them all.
Despite all that, only 7 percent of those lesser stakeholders considered Affordability in electricity a “value to prioritize.” C’mon. You can bet that ordinary people have a radically different opinion on the need for affordable electricity than those “key stakeholders”!
Legislators need to be wary of what ideas come from this stakeholder process. The cronies and special interests have a vested interest in trying to avoid — or barring that, downplay — standard environmental cleanup and restoration of land used for industrial purposes. They’ve beat back decommissioning and reclamation before. The elected representatives of the people will have to keep their focus on which stakeholders they represent.
For more information, see: