Wandering about Essex and Kent counties you may be struck by the number of abundant wind turbines and even an aggregation of solar panels.
These structures provide renewable energy. However, how much attention is being paid to end of life for the wind turbines and solar panels?
Wind turbines are mechanical equipment and like any equipment will eventually wear out. Indeed, life expectancy of wind turbines is roughly 20 to 25 years. Solar panels have a longer estimated lifespan of 25 to 30 years.
In the case of solar panels, according to the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, solar panel output diminishes by 0.8 per cent each year.
Essentially, we need to remember renewable energy is not free from direct and collateral impacts. Eventually every wind turbine, access road and turbine foundation will need “decommissioning.” Another way of saying that – eventually they may be dismantled and scrapped.
After reviewing a 2013 study by Alex Stecky-efantis at the School of Urban and Regional Planning at Queen’s University in Kingston on wind turbine decommissioning and site remediation, it becomes clear how Ontario’s plans for construction of wind turbine farms were generous – and in many cases municipal permit regulations added additional layers of requirements for construction.
What is not entirely clear are requirements associated with dismantling wind turbines and returning farm land to reusable conditions. There are decommissioning plan reports for all wind farms in Ontario (DPR), but few details about who pays for dismantling, scrapping and restoring land.
The issue of “who foots the bill” emerged recently in Alberta – a province with an abundance of legacy orphaned oil and gas wells left behind by bankrupt operators.
By way of an example of poorly orphaned energy sites, consider what befell Wheatley. It is our local example of what concerns farmers and ranchers in Alberta.
In some areas of Alberta, especially south of Calgary, many remnants of oil and gas development have remained for over a century.
Southwestern Ontario is splattered with abandoned gas wells – some of which date back to the 19th century. Wheatley has endured the consequences of money made from natural gas exploitation with the potentially deadly legacy collateral consequences.
All levels of government are delighted to proffer announcements of renewable energy developments. But few governments find palatable the consequential side, that eventually these energy projects may need to be decommissioned and the land upon which they were developed remediated.
Therefore, the question remains who is responsible for decommissioning wind turbines and solar panel farms? And more importantly, who bears costs associated with decommissioning?
Rural municipalities in Alberta are now asking the provincial government to require renewable energy projects carry a bond obligation to cover costs associated with disposing of turbines and solar panels. Solar panels apparently are about 90 per cent recyclable.
According to the earlier noted 2013 study by Alex Stecky-efantis, several Ontario municipalities have specified standards for site access and wind turbine construction, but few have remediation procedures and regulations.
Assorted sources estimate costs of removing a wind turbine can run from $30,000 to as high as $100,000. And there are approximately 2,700 wind turbines in Ontario. Thus decommissioning costs could range into the hundreds of millions of dollars and we’re still not certain who will pick up that tab – although taxpayers seem an obvious source of decommissioning and remediation funds.
Of course, we need also to remember as current wind turbines and solar farms are relegated to scrap yards, new wind farms still will be required.
Many farmers welcome wind turbines because they can earn anywhere from $5,500 to $7,000 annually from every wind turbine located on their property. However, as they earn, will it be them at the end of the day or someone else held responsible for turbine removal costs?
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