Guest opinion: More worn-out wind blades, solar panels landing in dumps – Sequim Gazette

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While wind and solar farms generate “greenhouse gas free” electricity, there are ongoing concerns over their impacts on our environment especially as a rapidly growing number of worn-out blades and panels are landing in landfills.

Those blades, housed on giant wind towers reaching over 250 feet in the sky, are starting to reach the end of their useful lives (15-20 years) and are being taken down, cut up and hauled to burial sites.

Even though more than 90% of the decommissioned wind towers and generating apparatus are recycled, the specialized fiberglass and composite blades are mostly entombed.

It is the same for spent solar panels. Only 10% are recycled. Grist noted recycling is called “wish-cycling” because the market drives the cheapest option, which is dumping them in landfills.

Harvard Business Review published a report “The Dark Side of Solar Power.” It concluded “solar energy is a rapidly growing market, which should be good news for the environment.

Unfortunately, there is a catch.

“The replacement rate of solar panels is faster than expected and given the current recycling costs, there is a real danger all used (solar) panels will go straight to landfills (along with equally hard-to recycle wind turbines),” HBR noted.

The International Renewable Energy Agency anticipates enormous amounts of annual solar panel waste which could reach 78 million tons by 2050 and recycling technology is woefully behind. Those totals could increase if solar panels and wind blades are destroyed while generating electricity.

For example, in March a pounding hailstorm destroyed substantial portions of the mammoth 3,300 acre Fighting Jays Solar Project located south of Houston. It highlighted the perils of trading traditional power sources for vulnerable “green” alternatives and sparking concern about the potential for chemical leaks from the broken panels, FOX News reported.

“Events like this underscore the importance of having an all-of-the-above energy approach to meet our energy needs and showcase how our country cannot solely rely on or fully transition to renewable energy sources like this,” Emily Matthews, a Fighting Jays neighbor told FOX. (Fighting Jays produced enough electricity for 62,000 homes).

Toxins are also released during mining minerals to produce silicon and solar panel manufacturing, Renewable Energy’s Jane Marsh wrote last year: “Mining produces countless pollutants, and noticing this is critical for understanding the whole picture. The mined product needs refinement, and furnaces reshaping these minerals create waste and harm the air, affecting workers who inhale these toxins.”

In Odessa, TX, a startup recycler, SolarCycle, processes end-of-life photovoltaic panels from commercial solar farms. After stripping aluminum frames and electrical boxes, panels are ground, shredded, and subjected to a patented process that extracts the valuable materials — mostly silver, copper, and crystalline silicon. Those components will be sold, as will the lower-value aluminum and glass.

“The wind turbine blades are a toxic amalgam of unique composites, fiberglass, epoxy, polyvinyl chloride foam, polyethylene terephthalate foam, balsa wood, and polyurethane coatings,” Principia Scientific International, a London-based group of scientists, states. “Basically, there is just too much plastic-composite-epoxy crapola that isn’t worth recycling.”

“The bottom line is no technology is ideal, especially up-and-coming environmentalist assets,” Marsh added. “Electric vehicle manufacturers must determine how to construct and recycle lithium-ion batteries, despite decreasing the world’s reliance on fossil fuels … solar panels are no exception.”

“For solar to maintain installation momentum, the sector must find a way to eliminate harmful materials before its potential is tarnished. Industries that ignore the adverse side effects of solar panel creation diminish humanity’s efforts to heal the planet,” Marsh concluded.

Roger that!

Our nation needs an all-inclusive energy strategy which focuses on meeting power demand, eliminating toxins, and recycling.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer, and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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