Lake Mills, Iowa and Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Casper, Wyoming have “green” burial grounds: the landfill sites for wind turbine blades. Those locations are the only three places in the U.S. that currently accept turbine blades, which are not recycled.
According to a Wyoming Cowboy State Daily article last August (“Wind Turbine Blades Being Disposed of in Casper Landfill”): “Each turbine blade will need between 30 and 44.8 cubic yards of landfill space, using a total of 448,000 cubic yards of the 2.6 million yards set aside for construction and demolition of material.”
Cindie Langston, solid waste manager for Casper Regional Landfill said “The components are made of a fiberglass material that is one of the most inert, non-toxic materials accepted at Casper Regional Landfill.”
Langston noted that the crushing equipment is not big enough for the blades, so workers cut them into three pieces and stuff two smaller sections in the third, which is cheaper than renting stronger crushing machines.
“The average lifespan of a wind turbine is 20 to 25 years, and wind farms repurpose and recycle 90 percent of the materials in a wind turbine unit,” according to the Cowboy State Daily. “The only materials not recycled are the fiberglass blades and motor housings. Nationwide, there are nearly 50,000 wind turbines, with 2,700 being decommissioned since the energy boom of the 1970s.”
In a September 13 Science Friday story (“Wind Turbines Leave Behind Hard-to-Manage Waste”), researchers estimated that the U.S. will have to dispose of more than 720,000 tons of blade material over the next 20 years.
The blades are made of a tough but pliable mix of resin and fiberglass — similar to what spaceship parts are made from. They are anywhere from 100 to 300 feet long and must be cut into thirds, transported on specialized equipment and then buried.
“There aren’t many options to recycle or trash turbine blades, and what options do exist are expensive, partly because the U.S. wind industry is so young,” an NPR article (“Unfurling the Waste Problem Caused by Wind Energy”) notes.
“It’s a waste problem that runs counter to what the industry is held up to be: a perfect solution for environmentalists looking to combat climate change.”
According to a February BBC News story (“What Happens to All the Old Wind Turbines”), a wind turbine graveyard is just 100 meters from a bend in the North Platte River in Casper.
“Between last September and this March, it will become the final resting place for 1,000 fibreglass turbine blades.”
Turbine blades last about 25 years, before having to be recycled, and “about two gigawatts worth of turbines will be refitted in 2019 and 2020. And disposing of them in an environmentally-friendly way is a growing problem,” the BBC story stated.
At least two ways are being explored to stop blades from going into landfills.
Don Lilly, chief executive of Global Fiberglass Solutions in Bellevue, Washington, said his company is transforming fiberglass composites into small pellets he calls EcoPoly that can be turned into injectable plastics or highly waterproof boards that can be used in construction.
A second method involves chopping the blades, with pieces placed in heated ovens (450-700 centigrade), a process called pyrolysis. This process is used for other industries, but significant amounts of energy are needed. A French recycling group, Veolia, is researching this method.
Other issues that arise with the growth of the wind power industry are bird deaths and an end to federal tax credits.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimates that 140,438 to 327,586 birds die every year from collisions with turbines and is recommending that all new wind developments consider several factors before choosing a location.
Companies are urged to avoid birds’ migration routes, places where raptors’ prey congregates, and water-filled landscapes. The guidelines are voluntary.
According to the Audubon Society, the Altamont Pass Wind Farm in northern California straddles a windswept mountain pass but is also in the midst of a major avian migration route. Audubon says this wind farm has been responsible for tens of thousands of birds’ deaths since its inception in the 1960s.
A federal subsidy for wind is a tax credit, called a production tax credit (PTC), and offers wind facilities and some other renewables a small tax credit for every kilowatt hour of energy produced over a farm’s first decade.
According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, that support has amounted to at least $1 billion every fiscal year since 2010, with estimates of $4.5 billion in 2018 and $4.7 billion in 2019, or a total of just under $25 billion since 2010.
The credit is being phased out and is scheduled to elapse entirely this year, 2020.
That means that operators building a new wind farm will not receive a tax credit going forward.
California is requiring that 50 percent of its energy comes from renewable energy sources (geothermal, wind and solar) by 2030.