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Who Cleans Up When a Wind Farm Retires?


Anybody from Wyoming will
tell you the wind here is almost always blowing. But today, a familiar landmark
along the Colorado-Wyoming border is still. The Ponnequin Wind Farm has been
shut down and decommissioned by its operator Xcel Energy. Like I said, it was no
longer in the best interest of our customers
to keep operating it. Really there are
two separate issues. The Ponnequin Wind Farm
is nearly 20 years old. It is relatively small in size. It did not make sense to keep
investing in the operations of that facility. The average lifespan
of a wind turbine is about 20 to 25 years. But with maintenance and
equipment and upgrades, a turbine could
last up to 40 years. These 44 turbines have
been around for 18 years and had a capacity to generate
750 kilowatts of electricity each. But technology has changed. The average wind
turbine built today generates twice that or more. Jonathan Naughton directs the
Wind Energy Research Center at the University of Wyoming. He says the decision
to decommission comes down to economics. A 15-year-old wind
farm is on the verge of where that business decision
could be made to shut it down. Now, hopefully in many cases
they would choose to re-power, put in new turbines in
place, if the wind farm is amenable to that. But these turbines
won’t be replaced, because in order for large
operators like Xcel to invest, wind farms need to be bigger
in order to be profitable. So the Ponnequin
site will come down. And bison rancher,
Ron Thiel, wants to make sure it’s
cleaned up the right way. All the disruption
of grass, which means roads, concrete,
chain link fences, towers– they need to be
gone, so that we’re back to square one, which is how
they received the property. Thiel owns and leases
some of the property where Ponnequin was built
in Wyoming and Colorado. Xcel says it’s
committed to eliminating any trace of the wind
farm once it comes down. But when a wind farm
needs to be cleaned up, it’s tricky, because
there’s no one set of rules. Instead it’s a combination of
federal guidelines, sometimes state regulations, sometimes
private agreements. It all raises questions
about the long term environmental impacts
of these farms. Nationwide, there are
around 49,000 wind turbines and at least 2,700 that
have been decommissioned since America’s first wind
energy boom in the 1970s. Most of these retired turbines
are in Southern California. The Tehachapi Wind Farm sits on
the edge of the Mojave Desert. It was built during that initial
wind energy boom and decades ago. But many of the older
turbines are no longer working, like skeletons
standing on the desert hillside, slowly decaying. Back then, there was
very little regulation. When they were built
in the mid to late 70s, they didn’t have a lot
of permitting issues about who was going
to take them down or who was going to recover
the sites after they were done producing power. When the bottom fell
out of the market, most of the companies that
produced the wind turbines went bankrupt. The broken down past
serves as a reminder of the need for an adequate
clean up plan today. Even though the Ponnequin
site spans two states, the turbines themselves
are in Colorado and subject to the patch work
of state and local regulations.But here in Wyoming, regulators
say they saw the future coming and put rules on the
books a full year before the federal guidelines. In Wyoming, wind energy producers are required to put
up bonds to cover the cost of taking down
turbines and returning the land to the way it was. Outside of Rawlins,
Wyoming, construction is scheduled to begin late this
year on the largest planned wind farm in North America. The Chokecherry and
Sierra Madre Wind Project will populate
these remote bluffs with giant next
generation wind turbines, generating enough electricity
for around three million homes.Like Ponnequin, this
massive wind farm will span government
and private land. Here, the Bureau of Land
Management has taken the lead.The surface is
our jurisdiction.And that means all
elements of the habitat, the soils, the vegetation. So when it comes to what
we require to be put back, I think is pretty comprehensive. The federal BLM is also
working side by side with the Wyoming Department
of Environmental Quality to oversee the project. Now, bonding is required for the
full amount of decommissioning and reclamation. And so if somebody
did walk away, we do have security in place
to close that facility out. All that is spelled out
upfront before the project even begins construction. The state of
Wyoming-BLM partnership may set a new blueprint on
how wind farms are managed and eventually decommissioned. But to date, there are no
binding federal regulations in place. I think, yes, we need
to have a consortium that is willing to
discuss these things and understand they all come
with different perspectives. But in a way, that it’s
economic to develop wind plants moving forward. As for the Ponnequin
Wind Farm, Xcel’s plan is to blow up the
towers this fall and then disassemble the blades. Some of the structure
will be recycled to scrap. And the rest will
end up in a landfill. You have to realize
with renewable energy, it’s not free from impacts. For Inside Energy,
I’m Leigh Paterson.

100 Comments

  1. Michael Mathis Author

    The only way a wind farm is profitable is with tax payer money! Another way the government tries to help them stay in business is forcing people to buy their electricity at a much higher price compared to power generated with coal, gas, or nuclear power.

    Reply
  2. Mark Wood Author

    The blades are made of known cancer carcinogen materials…3500 dollars to change the oil. Sell your wind to blow hard commoncore educated scum. Idiots.

    Reply
  3. Black Swan Author

    What about the raptors and owls minced up by the blades?
    Canada is punishing big oil with impossibly large fines for birds found dead on their property ( whether they were responsible or not). But has waived any fines on "green" wind farms that serve up bird meat. Crazy!

    Reply
  4. Jonathon Clary Author

    Tell that to the people of Zion Illinois who still have a barge full of nuclear waste sitting in Lake Michigan waiting for disposal. Been there for years and it’s going nowhere.

    Reply
  5. Peter B. Author

    Free energy from sunlight can be harvested from well placed windows and skylights in buildings during fall, winter and spring. They can be opened in the spring, summer and fall at night.

    Reply
  6. pauly pisspants Author

    anyone who's ever driven I10 through palm springs can see about half the windmills are derelict… they just get left out there to rust…

    Reply
  7. Tim Chisholm Author

    Those pesky turbines, which due to lack of regular scheduled maintenance over the years are now a problem for the environment? Gee…whose fault was that? Notice how they say it's no longer profitable to run these. It's all about the profit. How about running them as a nonprofit for and by the community. Me thinks you're overlooking a much, much more dire problem both here in Canada and to a lessor degree the U.S. https://thenarwhal.ca/the-story-of-albertas-100-billion-well-liability-problem-how-did-we-get-here/ https://www.americangeosciences.org/critical-issues/factsheet/pe/abandoned-wells

    Reply
  8. lon arbuckle Author

    no one talks about the energy used to build a wind turb,,or the polution caused from building them, or the cost of maintanance,,,
    and they don,t last ,,,,,dhhaaa

    Reply
  9. Sintre Tizer Author

    There is no doubt, it will be much less of a problem that where to keep the waste from a nuclear plant ! thank god for wind and solar energy .

    Reply
  10. David Well Author

    Just put a tax on them that are not being used. Say the tax money will be use for the homeless or some other feel sorry group and watch how fast they come down.

    Reply
  11. ThreePhaseHigh Author

    They’re going to be sorry. There are thousands of them here in Iowa. What once was beautiful green farmland is now covered in them big ugly windmills. Without the huge government tax break no one would build them. They chopped up thousands of birds . Not to mention the transmission lines that take the power away. And of course the wind doesn’t blow all the time. Driving up the cost because you still need to build a generation plant. One nuclear plant would illuminate all of those worthless MFs . With one fist full of nuclear fuel we could saving billions of dollars and generate electricity for a reasonable cost. They sit on Iowa land worth anywhere from 5 to $12,000 in acre. Wyoming if there’s anyway stop this madness. Before your scenic state is ruined.. (With the exception of Rawlins☹️ those poor people.)

    Reply
  12. Glenn Martin Author

    When the report says that disused towers will be "blown up", I assume it means the towers will be toppled with charges at their bases. It's a lot easier to clean up when they aren't in thousands of little pieces.

    Reply
  13. D M Author

    I wonder…in the 18 years those turbines were running, did they generate as much electricity as it took to produce them, deliver and install them in the first place?? And if you factor in how much energy is going to be used scrapping them, have they ever repaid their own carbon footprint??? I rather think they probably haven't.

    Reply
  14. Chris Mate Author

    The windfarm nightmare is coming, if all goes as well as it can it may be 10 years off, but that thing is going to cry for more money sooner or later, so who's going to be the 2nd owner after the installer-?

    Reply
  15. david diehl Author

    Only one regulation is needed, you remove everything you brought in. return it back to how you received it. Or we take your companies and everything you own.

    Reply
  16. I know you are right, And I just got owned but: Author

    So not only do they not produce enough electricity, they don’t last very long. Talk about waste and not being green. Another dipshit democrat retarded idea.

    Reply
  17. Michael nunya Author

    I’ll do it!!!!!
    You idiots know the value of nothing.
    Better question for you ignorant Americunts. Who cleans up your retired nuke plants including the spent rods.
    Who cleans up and disassembles coal fired energy plants.
    You morons.

    Reply
  18. joe goecke Author

    I don't see why they have to make them so poorly; there are turbines out there that are well over a hundred years old, and still going strong. It's a turbine! Hardly any moving parts.

    Reply
  19. bernardthedisappointedowl Author

    Good Lord, it must be just awful, with all their radioactive waste, oil contaminated ground and ruined aquifers – Oh, hang on, isn't that something else? ^oo^

    Reply
  20. Dan Simmons Author

    Nuclear, fusion ( Moon dust) is the path not wind ( on a large scale ), maybe solar and yes, coal because it can burn extremely hot more so than LP, natural gas which are great fuel sources too.
    Fuck the left, they make ok movies though. And fuck AOC, you know the rest of the extremist too.

    Reply
  21. Elliot Wilson Author

    There are many off grid people, that these companies could just offer them to folk, for free, as long as they pick them up, from the staging areas, that would be off the property.

    Reply
  22. charliehorsenm charliehorsenm Author

    If Xcel were actually concerned about costs of electricity production, this ridiculous collection of monumental junk would have never erected in the first place. The primary purpose of these things is a PR SOP to the ignorant public that has been hoodwinked by political opportunists and the purveyors of these contraptions who support the opportunists into believing that these things could EVER produce enough power to actually matter or that they could come even remotely close to economically competing with conventional generation methods. The only thing that ever made them APPEAR to be competitive is the massive government subsidies that Xcel (and many others) were given to put them up in the first place. If you doubt any of this, do some actual RESEARCH on the subject for yourself.

    Reply
  23. Scott O,Donahoe Author

    Google how the base of these things are built ! It would take 3 months of work just to get the base of one out of the ground !

    Reply
  24. Gy Bx Author

    We have these abominations in Michigan and no company wants to service them when they break down. The East Coast rich Democrats won't allow these ugly eyesores near their property, but it's fine with them if the Red state "deplorables" suffer the indignity of a raped landscape.

    Reply
  25. Woohoo I'm 102 Author

    If WIND TURBANS worked they would be working. This project was abandoned because WIND TURBANS are not cost effective. PERIOD!

    Reply
  26. Dadson worldwide Author

    The more I learn about windmills the less they make sense .
    Only if it's part of a mixed system do they make sense but even pumping water to a high elevation like battery storage you still have to spend 3 times on 3 separate systems. When theres wind and sun you can store it with water and when there is none the gravity can be used to drain reservoir to turn hydro electric. Yes its effective but cost is rodiculous

    Reply
  27. John Terpack Author

    Wind farms take up thousands of acres of land and have to be replaced every couple decades. Solar takes up thousands of acres and has to be replaced periodically. Tell me how these are improvements over conventional powerplants. Nuclear is the most ecological power possible and we let fear-mongering fools lock it away.

    Reply
  28. Korschtal Author

    Genius: focus on wind farms and hope no-one notices that a nuclear power station takes centuries to clean up (and even then it's basically taking the nuclear material "somewhere else")

    Reply
  29. Chris Van Bekkum Author

    Greens , are you listening??? All the pollution when created, now all the pollution and waste for disposal .!!!!! This is NOT "SUSTAINABLE"

    Reply
  30. Mike Smith Author

    How much to manufacture, transport, construct and maintain each tower, then how many dollars/energy does it make in entire life wihout legislative funding. I would love to see pen books on power output to see if they do balance or create energy debt?

    Reply
  31. Steve Lamperta Author

    OH SHUT UP ! TELL THE POOR PEOPLE THEY CAN HAVE THESE USED WINDMILLS AND THEY WILL ALL BE TAKEN DOWN AND CLEANED UP ! YOU IDIOTS !

    Reply
  32. Sherry Wyllie Author

    Wind and solar are being shoved down the consumers throat. We must get a dozen sales calls EVERY DAY. We have a 40 year warranty on our roof as long as NOTHING is placed on it. Every solar company says THEY will warranty our roof as long as we buy their product. Now do you really think they would still be in business to honor that? As soon as maintenance has to be done they will fold up shop. Its not worth their time.

    Reply
  33. carla mc ewen Author

    who cleans up from the oil wells and mines and fracking and damming? there is equipment and open uncleaned mine sites and such, all over the planet….recycle and rebuild it or not…get in line for clean up. corporations have a horrible track record for picking up after themselves, that would cost money.

    Reply
  34. kirbylane13 Author

    Taking down the turbine is the easy part. The foundation is another story. I'll bet they leave them in the ground and that ground will never be the same.

    Reply
  35. Frank Dawe Author

    The environmentalists want you to believe that wind energy is a great idea. News flash! EVERY source of energy has an environmental impact. Ironically, the cleanest source of energy, with the least impact, is the one most despised…nuclear energy.

    Reply
  36. Cheeseatingjunglista Author

    Replace the fucking turbines you greed obsessed corporate bastards, make it a bit bigger, what the fuck is wrong with you Yanks? Greed, greed, guns and fucking drugs. Sooner China takes over, the safer the environment – that deranged pig Pompeo has just fucked the Arctic Agreement – you are all fucking mad for fucking coal and oil. Backward, utterly backward land of mental pygmies

    Reply
  37. Wayne Sardullo Author

    If the Public and Companies had a Clue on Future Evolution and Stop these idiot complainers there would be NO NEED to Deco.

    Reply
  38. TurbineVlogger Author

    Seeing how the majority of the wires in the turbine is aluminum. Depending on the turbine manufacturer the company that would bid to retire a windfarm if it wasn't the installers would be someone like ersg wind or blue wind recovery group. As far as "unscrewing the nut on the bottom of the bolts" even if you had the tooling big enough to do so i would not suggest it. The likely hood of you getting out before being crushed is VERY low!

    Reply
  39. MegF Author

    Xcel Energy discontinued operations of its portion of the Ponnequin Wind Farm on Dec. 31, 2015.
    The company will maintain aviation lights, and other safety and security measures at the facility until 2019, at which time we should have a final decision on the disposition of the towers and related assets.

    Reply

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