“A renewable energy system can only be as green and sustainable as the manner in which wastes are minimized, repurposed, and/or disposed."
-US Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA released a new study, "Renewable Energy Waste Streams," which offers guidance for legislative amendments to address sustainability issues. The study was released the same day Delaware legislators introduced the "energy bill" (SB33) to amend the Renewable Portfolio Standard Act.
Informal hearings on the "energy bill" (SB33) will start on January 15th, and formal Senate Energy Committee hearings will be held in January. Email Jennifer Parrish to attend the online forum. Delaware has the opportunity to become a leader on this issue right now.
Very little of renewable energy products can be recycled. Renewable energy products, including solar modules, wind turbines, electric vehicles, and battery storage systems, don’t meet any honest definition of being sustainable. Raw materials are often mined and processed in countries with poor environmental regulations, and some even allow child labor in deplorable conditions. Key raw materials like cobalt, lithium, nickel, and copper have proven reserves of less than 40 years of supply, assuming today’s pricing and annual production. The headlong rush to all-electric cars will cause skyrocketing price hikes and widespread environmental damage from mining expansion.
EPA concerns about disposal include solar panels and electric vehicle batteries that present leaching hazards under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) that can turn landfills into future Superfund sites. Batteries also present a potential fire hazard. Fiberglass from wind turbine blades can’t be re-melted. The blades are longer than a football field and must be landfilled.
The study estimates that the cost to recycle solar panels is $25 to $30, with high shipping costs if recyclers are far away. These costs are only offset by about $1 in value of the recycled materials. Sending materials to landfill might only be $2 plus some local freight charges. The material value from recycled batteries is one-third the cost of the recycling process, according to the study, and the transportation cost to get 1,200-pound batteries to a recycler is much higher than the recycling process cost. The furnace to melt lithium car batteries runs at 2,700 degrees F.
System owners need to know the potential cost of decommissioning and recycling. Utility-scale projects generally include a prepaid bond to pay these costs, but small residential and commercial systems offer no protection. Removing rooftop panels from a house might cost close to $1,000, and recycling might cost as much.
The EPA offers some suggestions from actions in other states that Delaware should include in the "energy bill" (SB33):
- Developers of renewable energy systems over 30 kilowatt-hours electric generating or storage capacity that is built in Delaware, connect to the PJM regional electric grid in Delaware, or supply energy credits to Delaware electric utilities must establish bonds at the time of construction to cover the cost of decommissioning and recycling the project.
- Sellers of renewable energy systems in Delaware smaller than 30 kilowatt-hours electric generating or storage capacity must submit a plan to the state on decommissioning and recycling at no cost to the last owner of a solar energy system (based on Washington legislation).
- Manufacturers offering products for sale in Delaware must certify to the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control such products are compliant with the US Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (based on California regulatory action)