Wind turbine blades slated for waste disposal is forecast to quadruple over the next fifteen years
What’s even worse is that the amount of wind turbine blades slated for waste disposal is forecast to quadruple over the next fifteen years as a great deal more blades reach their 15-20 year lifespan. Furthermore, the size and length of the newly installed wind turbine blades are now twice as large as they were 20-30 years ago.
The wind turbine blades are a toxic amalgam of unique composites, fiberglass, epoxy, polyvinyl chloride foam, polyethylene terephthlate foam, balsa wood and polyurethane coatings. So, basically, there is just too much plastic-composite-epoxy material that isn’t worth recycling. 1
More than 720,000 tons of blade material will be disposed of over then next 20 years in the United States—a figure that does not include newer, taller higher-capacity turbines. Disposal of these blades—a byproduct of increasing wind generation—is becoming a growing problem. 2
A typical wind turbine has a foundation, a tower, a nacelle and three blades. The foundation is made from concrete, the tower is made from steel or concrete, the nacelle is made mainly from steel and copper, the blades are the most environmentally problematic at end of life since there are currently no established industrial recycling routes for them. Disposal at the end of life cycle must be considered but has been lacking. 3
Germany now has 29,000 wind towers. The nightmare of scrapping and decontamination has already started, with 250MW decommissioned last yer. Close to 10,000 towers must be decommissioned by 2023. One tactic has been to ship the toxic parts and rubble to African states to deal with the problem. 4
Other wind turbines have a six-figure decommissioning costs
There’s some public record material about decommissioning US wind farms, and it’s not reassuring. In Minnesota, the ten year old Nobles Wind farm has 134 turbines of about 1.5MW and is operated by Xeel Energy. Xeel estimates the cost for scrapping each turbine at up to $530,000 or $71 million total. Each turbine has a tip height of 120 metes. Just to scrap one 40m blade, involves crunching composite material weighing more than 6 tons.
As American Experiment points out, even $71 million doesn’t finance a thorough clean-up. The contracts oblige Xeel to restore the land to a depth of only about one meter, whereas the foundations go down 5 meters. Moreover, underneath the 56 square miles of this Minnesota wind farm is 140 km of cabling and pipes. The documents don’t say if the cables would stay or go. (4)
Other wind turbines have a six-figure decommissioning costs as well. According to utility documents for the Palmer’s Creek wind facility in Chippewa County, Minnesota, it would cost $7,385,822 to decommission the 18 wind turbines operating at that site, a cost of $410,000 per turbine. 5
The waste disposal site located near Casper, Wyoming will soon be filled with over 1,000 decommissioned wind turbine blades and motor housing units. The Wyoming House of Representatives recently agreed to the introduction of a bill that would ban the disposal of wind turbine blades in the state. Wyoming House Bill 217 would make it a misdemeanor to dispose of turbine blades and would impose fines of up to $1,000 for convictions. 2
Nationwide, there are nearly 50,000 wind turbines, with 2,700 being decommissioned, since the energy boom of the 1970s. Bloomberg New Energy Finance is expecting up to 2 gigawatts worth of turbines to be refitted this year and next. Each turbine blade will need between 30 and 44.8 cubic years of landfill space, using a total of 448,000 cubic yards of the 2.6 million yards set aside for construction and demolition material. This nearly 20 percent of total landfill space is enormous, given the amount of construction and demolition material disposed of in the United States. To prevent acres of abandoned and decaying wind farms, Wyoming laws require companies to provide bonds to cover the cost of decommission and disposal of turbines once they are taken out of service or abandoned. 2
Recycling turbine blades is more regulated in countries that have had wind power for decades. The European Union, for example, has waste management rules. Some European companies sell older and less efficient parts to customers in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Veolia, a German global utilities and waste management company, found that decommissioned blades can be crushed and burned along with other components in cement kilns where the blades transform into solid fuel that can be used in the cement industry. One American entrepreneur believes the blades can be recycled by grinding them up to make chocolate chip-sized pellets which can be used for decking materials, pallets, and piping. But, this option does not begin to deal with the massive disposal problem ahead for those countries well into wind generation, which is rapidly including the United States.
With an increasing dependence on wind generated electricity and the ever growing size of the turbines, the issues of waste from wind turbines is significant and evolving. Most state governments did not provide for the disposal of wind turbine blades despite implementing renewable standards that require the generation of electricity from wind or other forms of renewable energy. It appears that many never even thought about the potential side effects of mandating new forms of energy generation such as wind and solar, and are only now learning the consequences of their edicts. Some states have ridiculously high percentage requirements for renewable generation that only exacerbates this problem. 2
In short, disposing of wind turbines is a significant problem, with negative impacts on communities and the environment.
- “The renewable energy myth: 50,000 tons of non-recyclable wind turbine blades dumped in the landfill,” zonehedge.com, (1/10/20)
- “Wind turbine blades will continues to pileup at US landfills,” instituteforenergyresearch.org, (3/6/20)
- Pu Liu and Clair Y. Barlow, “Wind turbine blades in 2050,” Waste Management 62, 229, April 2017
- Tony Thomas, “When wind turbines die, the problems are just beginning,” conservativewoman.co.uk, (11/15/19)
- Isaac Orr, “It costs $532,000 to decommission a single wind tower,” americanexperiment.org, (12/3/19)