Lawmakers Look To Lend Coal Companies A Hand Through Wind Energy Waste

Feb 14, 2020

Wind Farm in Medicine Bow, Wyoming
Credit Tony Webster, Portland, OR

The House Minerals, Business & Economic Development Committee moved forward on a bill that would allow coal mines to become a disposal site for decommissioned wind turbine parts if it's part of the company's reclamation plan.

Right now, wind companies pay landfills to lay down their materials. A Bloomberg article recently detailed the scale of that operation in Casper. The bill's concept is to allow coal companies to recoup those costs.

"For my coal companies and my miners, giving them one little opportunity to generate some different kind of revenue, I think they'd be at least interested in having the option," said House Majority Floor Leader Eric Barlow.

25 percent of those fees would be credited to the state's general fund. But Barlow said he wasn't married to that.

"What the state receives isn't important to me, opening up the opportunity for the disposal of these blades within a private market scenario is what we're trying to accomplish."

The bill explains coal companies would need to bury turbines blades and towers at a certain depth - below the ground, but above aquifers. All mechanical and electrical materials would also have to be removed. In addition to coal companies getting paid for burying turbines in reclaimed pits, it would also need to pay for less dirt to fill in the area.

"It presents an opportunity for our operators up there to create a little revenue for themselves and the state. We believe it can be done responsibly," said Travis Deti, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association.

Committee Chairman Mike Greear said his one real concern was if there are any toxins or heavy metals in the turbines that could leach into the soil or aquifer.

Shannon Anderson, staff attorney for the landowners' group Powder River Basin Resource Council, testified it's also a concern for her, but that there's little science to say whether it would occur.

She said there are also subsidence concerns in burying huge amounts of infrastructure underground, saying the process would likely interrupt the natural compaction of soil. Anderson said the region's aquifer has been removed through coal mining but still has to be restored; she worries how this could affect restoration.

"[It's] not only a leap for in-state turbines but out-of-state and potentially opening up a whole new world of commercial disposal of wind turbines in coal mines. It's a fairly big step for the state," said Anderson.

If the bill passed, wind energy companies would not be required to dispose of their wind turbine materials at a coal mine. But another bill seeks to prevent the disposal of wind turbine blades, in particular, anywhere else.

"No person shall place a wind turbine blade, in whole or in part, in mixed municipal solid waste, a solid waste management facility, commercial solid waste management facility or a commercial waste incineration or disposal facility in Wyoming," reads House Bill 0217.

That bill has yet to be discussed in committee. House Bill 129, Reclamation of surface coal mines-turbine blades, will next be discussed on the House floor.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Cooper McKim, at cmckim5@uwyo.edu.