Who pays for the cleanup?
MONTE SONNENBERG Simcoe Reformer Dozens of wind turbines are going up in Haldimand County. This was the scene Wednesday on the south side of Highway 3 east of Jarvis. Some are beginning to wonder what happens when these gigantic structures reach the end of their useful life.
An estimated 14,000 giant turbines stand abandoned at former wind installations in the United States.
For a variety of reasons, the companies that put them up are not in a position to dismantle them. Some have gone bankrupt, leaving the problem for someone else to resolve.
Norfolk council was asked this week to think about that happening here.
Appearing as a deputation on behalf of her neighbours, Suzanne Andrews of Port Ryerse asked council what safeguards it has in place to ensure Norfolk isn’t left holding the bag when wind turbines within its boundaries reach the end of their useful life. She expressed similar concerns about worn-out infrastructure at solar farms.
“Where is the assurance the money will be in place?” Andrews asked. “Can you be certain anyone will take responsibility for them? The abandonment of these structures is a distinct possibility.”
The estimated life of a wind turbine is 25 years. The Green Energy Act requires companies to file decommissioning plans with their wind turbine proposals. The province, however, does not insist on a bond to back them up.
Three Ontario municipalities – Tiny Township, the Municipality of Bluewater and West Grey – have responded by imposing steep development charges on wind developers to cover such contingencies as decommissioning.
The fee per turbine in Bluewater is $434,000. The municipalities acted after receiving legal advice that the provisions of the Green Energy Act do not guarantee the removal of turbines and the remediation of affected land once an installation falls dormant.
Mayor Dennis Travale said Andrews raises some good questions.
“Thirty or 40 years ago, no one was thinking about brownfields,” the mayor said. “Now we have brownfields. How many years did the American Can sit there before we found a developer? There was no decommissioning fund for that.”
Council directed staff to investigate actions taken elsewhere and prepare a report on whether it is advisable for Norfolk to follow suit. There are a host of questions to answer before council considers the matter further.
Travale wants to know whether municipalities can legally intervene like this in business arrangements between green energy companies and private property owners. He suggested that distribution companies such as Hydro One may be better situated to discharge this responsibility.
Windham Coun. Jim Oliver also challenged Andrews’ assertion that it could cost as much as $400,000 to remove a turbine. He said giant metal structures like this must have some scrap value. Oliver wants specific information on the net cost of removing a turbine.
Ulrike Kucera, a spokesperson for the Canadian Wind Energy Association, says fears of abandoned turbines blighting the landscape are overblown. On Wednesday, Kucera said turbine infrastructure has a high scrap value.
“There is a considerable amount of material in a wind turbine that is salvageable and recyclable,” she said. “There is only a small amount of material in a turbine that can’t be recycled.”
There is more to decommissioning a wind turbine than meets the eye. The huge concrete base that anchors the tower can be buried many metres in the ground. Towers as tall as 80 metres can weigh as much as 162 tons. The generator itself can weigh as much as 82 tons while the rotors can span a diameter of over 100 metres.
There are also meteorological towers, transformer units, buried and overhead power lines, transformer substations and access roads with associated roadbeds to consider.
Wind turbines are a concern in Port Ryerse because the Ministry of the Environment is entertaining a proposal to locate four units in the hamlet west of Port Dover.
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