Lawmakers and energy advocates unite behind solar, wind disposal bill

By: - January 20, 2023 7:00 am

Indiana legislators are being proactive in how to deal with solar and wind waste. (Getty Images)

Republican lawmakers — along with Democrats and clean energy advocates — want Indiana to figure out solar and wind energy equipment decommissioning and disposal before the hazardous waste involved becomes a large-scale problem.

Senate Bill 33, authored by Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, would task the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the Indiana Regulatory Commission with conducting a joint study of how to phase out old solar panels and wind turbines.

“We often react after the fact — [after] we have concerns about the environment, we have concerns about industrial waste — and we don’t attempt to deal with those concerns until we already have a significant problem handling the volume of material,” Walker told the Senate Utilities Committee Thursday.

Hundreds of thousands of aging steel underground storage tanks around the United States are leaking petroleum and other hazardous substances, Walker said.

Tank contents can leak into soil and contaminate groundwater — which nearly half the country’s population relies on for drinking water, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Many of those tanks were abandoned over the decades, Walker said, adding, “We’re still dealing with the mess today, of sites that haven’t pumped fuel in 25, 30, 35 years.”

Walker’s bill would have IDEM and the IURC’s study consider a new state program to manage solar and wind decommissioning and disposal, which agency could run that program and how to fund the task.

It would also direct the study to consider financial assistance for decommissioning and disposal, who’s financially liable and several other legal nuances, best practices for disposal or recycling, and criteria for the equipment’s expected life span and classification as “inoperable” or “irreparable.”

Universal support

Utility consumer, environmental and waste management advocates all threw their support behind the bill, though some asked that the bill leave room for stakeholder involvement in the agencies’ study.

Others pushed for Indiana to see old equipment as an opportunity to lead the recycling industry, and properly fund those efforts.

“[When] we get a [cardboard] box, we think to ourselves, what do we do with it? Well, in Indiana, we can recycle it and reuse it, repurpose it, remake it right in our own state and start all over again, said Jessie Biggerman of the Association of Indiana Solid Waste Management Districts.

“It’s the same thing with solar panels,” Biggerman said, adding that almost all the materials in the panels can be recycled.

Lawmakers also considered a proposal to audit energy use on Indiana’s government building campus in Indianapolis. Senate Bill 221 also got widespread and bipartisan support after author Sen. Andy Zay, R-Huntington, deleted a section weighing creation of a state coal reserve.

Instead, Zay said he’d get that summer study committee created by asking leadership directly.

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Leslie Bonilla Muñiz
Leslie Bonilla Muñiz

Leslie covers state government for the Indiana Capital Chronicle with emphases on elections, infrastructure and transportation. She previously covered city-county government for the Indianapolis Business Journal. She has also reported on local, national and international news for the Chicago Tribune, Voice of America and more. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

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