North Dakota has great potential for wind farms. But like every other participant in the wider energy industry that relies on equipment, wind-farm operators have to figure on machinery having a limited useful life span.
Figures differ, but the massive wind turbines have at least 15 years and up to 25 years of usefulness, as shown in Germany, Great Britain and other countries with long-time wind-farming experience.
A lot can happen in 20 years or so. So it’s extremely wise of the state Public Service Commission to think through what should happen if a wind farm ceases to operate.
The idea is that production would go on and on, turbines being repaired or replaced as necessary. However, the climate in which the energy industry operates is unpredictable.
The commission has devised a set of rules for retiring wind farms that will be considered in a public hearing Nov. 29. The best time to make a rule is before it’s needed.
The industry is new enough in North Dakota that none of the operations has had to be shut down. It could happen, down the road. One of the last things we need is useless wind turbines interrupting the prairie view. With the turbines themselves, plus concrete pads, transformers, lines and such, there could be a whale of a lot of work to disassemble wind farms of the size envisioned for coming years.
Owners and operators of wind farms generating at least 500 kilowatts and all those in operation longer than 10 years would be required to plan ahead for retiring the site and its equipment. The cost of returning the landscape to pre-wind-farm condition would fall onto the owner or operator, and bonding to assure that there’s money to accomplish the process would be required by the rules.
It’s all in the evolution of the industry, and North Dakota has a long experience of energy production operations having life cycles. The days are long gone of a company simply walking away from a coal mine or abandoning an oil-field operation.
There are extensive, detailed requirements in the Century Code for oil producers to meet in capping off wells, reclaiming the land where there have been saltwater ponds or any remnants of reserve pits from drilling. The companies are answerable to the state Industrial Commission and are strictly accountable for bonding their performance.
Reclamation of land mined for lignite is a showcase for the state. A person can look at a gaping open pit and piled-up soil alongside and a few years later drive past the same spot and hardly be able to be sure of the pit’s former location. The farmland or pasture is that good looking. It should happen in all cases.
As a nation, we covet the energy from oil fields, coal mines and wind farms, but whatever form of energy is yielded, those who produce it for us have an inescapable duty of stewardship of the environment, and that includes the skyline where more and more wind turbines occupy the view.
7 November 2007
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