By Guy Page
The United States today lacks the law, planning and infrastructure to recycle the estimated 35 million solar panels expected to need disposal and/or recycling by 2050. However, the solar power industry is working on a solution. Here in Vermont, developers of large commercial solar farms must plan for and fund panel disposal.
A recent Facebook post by our friend Mary Daly got Headliners wondering: what will be done with the vast acres of Vermont’s solar panels when their 15-30 year lifespan has ended? Mary’s reposted news story claimed – correctly – that the U.S. and most other developed and developing nations have no regulations or facilities to recycle solar panels – yet. One online comment called the problem “the unintended consequence of a [bad] idea. And what about the ones that will stay around deteriorating as eye sores because the property owner cannot afford to remove them… They’re already disgusting to look at, wait 20 years and see the horrible eye sores.”
It’s unclear what, if anything, the industry and the government will do about defunct panels left in place. But there does seem to be a plan – or at least a plan for a plan – for wholesale disposal/recycling a few decades from now, when the panels will need to be replaced. Right now, just a few companies around the country do the work of disposal/recycling, and on a small scale. Simply put, there’s not much demand – yet.
Most solar panels installed in the last 20 years still produce power. When longtime renewable power leader Europe needed large-scale recycling, it established a recycling authority that now can handle 10,000 dead panels a day. The U.S. can’t produce that much panel waste in a month, and won’t for years to come, industry officials say. Until then, defunct U.S. solar panels will either be recycled in small amounts, shipped in containers to Europe for recycling, or (far more often) tossed in the trash.
Vermont regulations don’t require any solar panel recycling but do require large solar power projects (one megawatt or more) to submit and fund a decommissioning plan, Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund director Andy Perchlik told Headliners today. According to municipal documents, the 2.5 MW “South Forty Farm” in Burlington budgets $116,000 for total decommissioning costs, including $9,000 to “package and ship modules.” The decommissioning plan does not say where the expired modules will be shipped, or what will happen to them.
Solar panel disposal at Vermont’s recycling centers and transfer stations seem somewhat hit and miss, if our inquiring phone calls Monday are any indicator. Casella’s doesn’t take solar panels, but the Chittenden County Solid Waste District does, for about $15 per panel and provided you have drained out the glycol, which must be disposed of at an environmental transfer station. A representative of Central Vermont Solid Waste District said it doesn’t take them.
States with mature solar panel recycling laws (like California) require both a decommissioning plan and an upfront funding mechanism, just like any other power generating facility. Time will tell if Vermont’s solar power industry takes a leadership role in cleaning up after itself.
One thing every solar power panel owner should know, however – the responsibility to safely dispose of dead solar panels is YOURS, not the company that built them on your roof or in your back yard and then leased them from you. When the lease is over, the panels are your property and responsibility.
Rep. Welch’s electric car rebate doesn’t address loss of gasoline tax receipts
Federal legislation proposed by Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vermont) would allow rebates of up to $7500 on an unlimited number of electric cars, a June 29 statement issued by the congressman said.
Federal law now limits rebates to 200,000 cars per manufacturer.
“Transportation is the single largest contributor to greenhouse emissions in the United States,” said Welch. “It is urgent that we transition to cleaner, more efficient modes of transportation. My legislation will make electric vehicles and their charging stations more affordable, while saving Vermonters money at the gas pump and reducing their environmental footprint.”
Currently, a federal tax credit of up to $7,500 is available for buyers of electric vehicles. However, the number of credits is capped at 200,000 vehicles for each manufacturer. That cap is expected to be hit by manufacturers as early as this year, rendering the credit unavailable to buyers.
If – as Rep. Welch hopes – Vermonters “save money at the gas pump” by buying electric, Montpelier will be left to solve a serious, growing problem: keeping our highways clear and safe on a budget almost wholly reliant on the gasoline tax. As fewer people drive gasoline-powered cars, the gasoline tax receipts will likely not keep pace with the state’s highway budget.
Efforts to pass legislation to tax electric cars at the charging station “pump” have been resisted by renewable transportation advocates, who say it will make driving an electric car less appealing to cost-conscious Vermonters. Other electric-car tax schemes have been rejected for the same reason.
Rep. Welch’s generous, unlimited tax rebates, while welcome to many environmentally-minded consumers, also will create a “hole” in the federal revenue that will need to be accounted for. Like their cousins in the renewable electricity business, electric car policy makers and industry leaders must fairly own and address the problems they are creating by seeking to move society away from fossil fuels.
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.