Who will take the old, unrecyclable blades that are being replaced on South Dakota’s wind turbines? The city of Mitchell is positioning to take those in, and a Davison County board gave a Mitchell business approval to dismantle blades Tuesday.
Bob Ball, who runs H&R Salvage of Mitchell, is in the business of destroying blades, something he says he’s already doing with success in Iowa, where the issue has become a hot topic with increasingly aging blades.
Ball is already leading the demolition and burying of turbine blades in Lake Mills, Iowa, working out agreements to cut up old General Electric turbine blades and putting them into a Waste Management landfill.
“They don’t let just any hillbilly get their blades and cut them up,” he told the Davison County Planning Commission. “I’m the most successful of anyone they know for chopping them up.”
On Tuesday, the Davison County Planning Commission approved H&R Salvage to expand its existing operation to dismantle wind turbine blades. Final approval will be considered by the Davison County Commissioners on Dec. 10. The county does not have to rule on the landfill decisions.
Meeting with the Davison County Commission earlier on Tuesday, Mitchell Public Works Director Kyle Croce and Street and Sanitation Superintendent Kevin Roth said they’ve been approached by H&R Salvage to put up to 700 tons of old wind turbine blades from Wessington Springs into its landfill.
Those blades would be cut down to 50-foot pieces and eventually down to 3-by-7-foot sections and would be placed in a ravine at Mitchell’s Old Landfill, which is located at 2801 E. Havens St. (Mitchell’s current 160-acre landfill, located southeast of the city on 257th Street, would not be taking wind turbine pieces, the city officials said.)
Those turbine pieces are made of non-toxic fiberglass and essentially don’t decay or disintegrate over time. It’s that potential “white elephant” factor that makes them a burden when they’re no longer usable for wind turbines, drawing the concern of Davison County Commission Chairwoman Brenda Bode.
“You’re burying something that will never go away,” Bode said. “This is taking up land, making a footprint that is never going to be used. We need to do some due diligence.”
Currently, Mitchell takes commercial trash and garbage, rubble and building debris for $36 per ton. Croce and Roth said they would consider a fee of $65 per ton for commercial waste outside of the landfill’s general five-county service area.
NextEra Energy owns the Wessington Springs Wind Energy Center, which has 34 turbines and has been in commercial operation since 2009. Earlier this year, NextEra began work to replace the previous 77-meter blades with longer, 91-meter blades, which can capture more wind energy and convert it to electricity with more efficiency. Blades usually weigh between 14 and 19 tons.
Croce said the city has not yet made any commitments to take the blade pieces, and said they want to have the plans approved by Davison County. Roth also said the city is changing the permitting on its old landfill to allow for up to 5,000 tons of garbage in a year, starting on Jan. 1. Currently, the landfill is permitted for 500 tons.
“That’s why we’re considering the higher fee,” Croce said. “We want to deter haulers from coming in and using our landfill. We want them to be using the landfills in their contracted area.”
Bode said that neither the city nor the county has the money for another landfill, so the decisions on how much material Mitchell is willing to take needs to be weighed carefully.
“Is it worth filling it up with wind turbines? … Everyone wants someone else to take their garbage,” she said.
Commissioner John Claggett alluded that wind energy companies have been shopping around to various municipalities and counties to find places to take their old blades. Sioux Falls, for example, stopped allowing turbines to be dumped at the city’s landfill, but only after two Iowa wind farms dumped more than 100 turbine blades, each measuring more than 120 feet long, the Argus Leader reported.
Ball said the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources generally won’t let landfills take out-of-state turbines. He said he will only take 12 blades per day at its salvage location just west of Mitchell, because that’s as much as his employees can get through in a day’s work. In Iowa, they are buried in a large pit, Ball said, and thousands of blades have been broken down to the point past recognition.
“It’s a lengthy process but once it’s done, it’s done,” said Ball. “These blades are going to have to go somewhere for a long time.”
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