Coal Mines Could Store Old Turbine Blades

Wind energy companies will have the option of using decommissioned wind turbine blades as backfill material when reclaiming surface coal mine sites soon, thanks to a new bill signed into law earlier this year.

But first, the state needs to set the rules.

Wyoming environmental regulators gathered input on draft rules related to the new law with the Land Quality Division Advisory Board on Thursday. The public and industry representatives had the opportunity to weigh in.

Back in March, the Wyoming Legislature passed House Bill 129, extending the option to companies to repurpose retired wind blades when reclaiming surface coal mines.

The blades, which typically make up about 10% of a wind turbine’s total material, are made of fiberglass. Fiberglass is a tricky material that can’t be recycled or easily repurposed.

And as utility companies look to replace aging wind turbines, the machines’ blades are being buried in stacks at a handful of landfills around the country, including in the Casper Regional Landfill.

Soon coal mines could be another disposal option.

Travis Deti, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association, said he supported the solution.

“This is a good idea and it’s forward thinking,” Deti told the board. “It’s an opportunity … Like any energy industry, wind produces waste. It’s a time for the mining industry to be a part of the solution of how to dispose of that waste.”

Under recent draft rules, compiled by Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, companies wishing to take advantage of disposing wind waste in coal mines would have to follow several rules.

For one, only decommissioned wind blades and towers made from fiberglass or carbon fiber composite material can be used as backfill material. (Roughly 90 percent of all wind turbine material is recyclable because much of the machine is composed of steel, copper or other electronic materials).

Representatives of the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a landowners group, said they wanted to ensure reclamation obligations, as required under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act and the Wyoming Environmental Quality Act, were still properly upheld.

The group did not want the old mine sites to suddenly become a landfills, which could affect groundwater or land stability, they said.

“Our concern is that this becomes a landfill,” the groups’ attorney Shannon Anderson remarked. “Once a coal company leaves, who is running the landfill? We want to make sure reclamation happens, the land is restored to the state it was in prior to mining.”

But Kyle Wendtland, the state’s land quality administrator, was adamant that transforming former coal mines sites into landfills was not the intent of the new law.

“It’s not a landfill. That is not the intent of the rules and that has been vetted out pretty thoroughly,” Wendtland said. “I don’t think there should be any mislabeling of this process (as) a landfill.”

Wyoming’s Land Quality Division did not render any final decision on the drafted rules.

Thursday’s meeting was intended to collect feedback as part of a scoping period.

“This (new law) does have impacts in our community,” said Chris Fare, environmental manager at Melgaard Construction, during the meeting. “As seen and as discussed, there is more to come. Wind energy generation is here to stay and requires an appropriate mechanism for disposal. Green energy has costs, but those costs can generate revenue on the other end.”

The Land Quality Division will present final proposed rules to the advisory board at a meeting which will likely be scheduled for early October.


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