North Carolina has no plan for disposing of millions of tons of material from solar installations dotting the state. Rep. Jimmy Dixon, R-Duplin, has asked the legislature to study the environmental safety issues associated with closing the facilities.
House Bill 319 is set for a vote Wednesday on the House floor.
As Dixon presented the bill earlier this month to the House Environment Committee, he said the manner in which the state handles removing the steel, glass, wiring, lubricants, and other components of utility-scale solar projects must be “economically feasible, environmentally safe, cost-effective, and a benefit to the ratepayers of North Carolina.”
Dixon said H.B. 319 raises six issues to the state Environmental Review Commission because “taxpayers, citizens of North Carolina, local governments, and everybody concerned needs comprehensive, accurate, data-based information.” A report would be delivered in 2018 to the General Assembly.
The six provisions to be studied in H.B. 319 are:
- Whether performance bonds should be required to ensure proper decommissioning and closing of solar facilities.
- If solar panels, fluids, and other related components could be classified as hazardous materials.
- Whether solar panels and materials in them can be disposed of in landfills safely.
- The economic feasibility and availability of recycling solar panels.
- Whether land housing solar projects could be placed back into use for agricultural crop production after a project ceases operation.
- The anticipated economically productive life cycle for various types of solar panels.
In exchange for his concerns over the regulatory void, and potential future effects on land and groundwater, Dixon was berated by a solar-friendly Republican colleague of being on a witch hunt.
Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, an ardent renewable energy advocate, repeatedly complained that an Environmental Review Commission study would be redundant because solar representatives and industry-provided experts already told some House members there are no environmental safety concerns involving utility-scale solar projects.
Dixon said “the proper vehicle” for reporting critical environmental issues to the General Assembly was a full study by the Environmental Review Commission.
“I’m concerned about witch hunts as well when it comes to renewable energy,” Steinburg said, later asserting that Dixon probably is on one.
North Carolina hosts 60 percent of the nation’s utility-scale solar projects. Carolina Journal broke the story in 2015 that the state has no environmental rules for shutting down those solar sites safely at the end of their useful life. Dixon then called a legislative meeting of the affected parties to learn about the situation.
Alex Miller, who represents North Carolina’s three largest solar energy developers, urged committee members to reject H.B. 319. He seemed to imply even studying the environmental implications was akin to slander.
“An accusation, even if your name is cleared down the line, is damaging to your reputation,” Miller said. “An indication that the General Assembly is considering onerous overregulation of a particular industry is damaging to the confidence of investors.”
“I think this committee, and the General Assembly is interested in stability also, but it is not necessarily of out-of-state investors that we are concerned about the stability of. It’s the very citizens of North Carolina,” Dixon said.
“I’m really puzzled by some of the comments I’ve just heard. It was mentioned that we might dampen the enthusiasm by changing the rules in the middle of the game. We don’t have any rules right now,” said Rep. Jeff Collins, R-Nash.
“I don’t understand how anybody could be opposed to making sure we leave property environmentally safe after any kind of business” closes shop, Collins said. “I think we’re being delinquent in our responsibilities if we don’t at least study it, and see what we need to do.”
Apple has one of several large solar projects in his district, said Rep. Jay Adams, R-Catawba, and the company should be responsible for decommissioning them.
However, he said, some landowners entered into long-term leases of their property for solar facilities.
“They don’t know the answers to the questions that this bill poses, and they need to know those answers,” Adams said.