Wind turbine decommissioning requirement proposed

Wind turbine owners and operators would be required to pay decommissioning and reclamation costs under a bill heard March 6 by the Natural Resources Committee.

Sen. Bruce Bostelman
Sen. Bruce Bostelman

LB700, introduced by Brainard Sen. Bruce Bostelman, would make any person owning, operating or managing a wind energy conversion system responsible for decommissioning or reclamation costs necessary for removal of the system. This would include removal of any above-ground or below-ground equipment and restoration of the land to its natural state, which Bostelman referred to as a “greenfield” restoration.

Bostelman said state law should require wind energy facilities to decommission their equipment in the same way that existing power generation facilities, such as coal-fired and nuclear power plants, are required to do.

He said most wind energy development contracts provide that the company is responsible for removing only a portion of a wind turbine’s concrete and steel support structure. The remaining part of the foundation that lies below ground is left in place and covered with a few feet of dirt, Bostelman said.

“This bill, following the greenfield practices, would ensure that the land truly gets back to its natural state prior to when the facilities were installed where it is serviceable for planting, building construction or other common uses,” he said.

Kristen Gottschalk testified in support of LB700 on behalf of the Nebraska Rural Electric Association. She said it would clarify what is required of wind energy companies when they decommission a wind turbine and ensure that agricultural practices can continue uninhibited after a turbine is removed.

Terry Madson, a resident of Nuckolls County, also testified in support. He said wind energy development, while well intentioned, could have the unintended consequence of degrading the state’s farm and ranch land for future generations if wind turbines are not decommissioned properly.

David Levy testified in opposition to the bill on behalf of BHE Renewables. State law already requires wind energy lease agreements to describe wind turbine decommissioning requirements, he said, and most counties include decommissioning requirements in their zoning regulations. Levy said developers also are required to post a bond to cover decommissioning costs after a project’s first 10 years of operation.

Levy said removing a wind turbine’s entire base is unnecessary and expensive.

“On a 200-megawatt wind energy project, which is kind of the average these days in Nebraska, this would add approximately $5 million of decommissioning expense,” he said.

John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, also testified in opposition. He said most landowners who sign contracts with wind energy developers understand that removing the base to a depth of four feet, which is common practice, is a reasonable tradeoff to ensure a project’s financial viability.

“I’m not aware of landowners that are unhappy with those provisions,” Hansen said.

The committee took no immediate action on LB700.

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