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Retire or refurbish? Either way, dealing with Oklahoma’s aging wind turbines will be costly

 The Journal Record | August 16, 2019

OKLAHOMA CITY – In preparation for a significant share of wind turbines reaching their end-of-service life in the next 10-15 years, European wind industry leaders are beginning discussions about the cost to retire or refurbish the turbines.

In 2020, almost 30% of installed wind turbine capacity in Europe will be older than 15 years, according to a May article in the Journal of Physics. WindEurope is hosting an End-of-Life Issues and Strategies seminar in September to assemble industry and academic experts for discussion about the issue.

Opponents of wind power cite disposal of turbine parts as a blind spot in the environmental impact of wind power development. At some point, wind power producers will have to pay for the inevitable decommissioning costs related to the removal of aging and worn-out wind turbines now spinning across the horizon in much of western Oklahoma. The cost of decommissioning a single wind turbine can exceed more than $200,000. At that level, the cost to decommission Oklahoma’s 3,797 wind turbines would be more than $759 million.

Some fear the scores of wind farms built across western Oklahoma will become partial junkyards for broken-down wind towers and equipment.

But Advanced Power Alliance Vice President Mark Yates said technological advances and industry efforts to refurbish existing turbines have made repowering wind farms more common than decommissioning them. Refurbishing efforts extend wind turbine life far beyond the normal 25 years, and Oklahoma has “very advanced” statutes compared to surrounding states in regard to decommissioning guidelines, he said.

“A developer would have a year to deconstruct that wind farm and bring the land back to the shape it was in before the wind facility was constructed, so the land would go back to the way it was before. Many of the components of the wind turbine is able to be salvaged, recycled,” Yates said.

“The long and the short is Oklahoma is in a very good position with our decommissioning legislation, and really further along and more advanced than what we see in other states,” he said.

In 2017, 86% of U.S. wind turbines were less than 10 years old, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

In 2018, the U.S. had more than 57,000 wind turbines with a capacity of 97,960 megawatts. Oklahoma ranked third for installed wind power capacity, with wind power accounting for 32% of the state’s electricity, according to AWEA.

Researchers explored aspects of Europe’s looming end of many wind power projects, particularly the uncertainties of managing offshore wind farms, siting “an urgent need to thoroughly prepare” for all scenarios in a Journal of Science article.

Many of the projects are offshore, posing challenges with regulations, planning, logistics and potential environmental impacts. Onshore wind energy developed earlier than offshore projects did, leading offshore decommissioning “largely unexplored” and “challenging.”

Anticipation and further research into the outlined obstacles are key to ensuring time and budget constraints are met and environmental impacts are minimized. The absence of a regulatory framework for offshore decommissioning will lead to disruption of the marine environment and lack of availability of appropriate vessels will slow things, according to the article.

“Certainly, the decommissioning phase, such as other wind turbine end-of-life scenarios, is affected by important sources of uncertainty,” according to the article.

“Nevertheless, the complexity of the offshore environment, the diversity of the site characteristics and the limited experience compared to onshore, makes the decommissioning of offshore wind farms more critical.”

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