In the past two decades, the Midwest landscape has been transformed by the erection of thousands of wind turbines. But what happens when those turbines wear out?
Jennifer Zwagerman, head of the Drake University Agricultural Law Center, says the answer is “it depends.”
“It really depends on what the contract says,” Zwagerman says.
But she adds that most contracts include some type of language requiring the company that owns the turbine to also be responsible for removal.
Adam Jablonski, vice president of resource development at MidAmerican Energy in Iowa, says MidAmerican contracts call for the company to be responsible for removal of everything above ground, such as the tower and blades. It also calls for the company to be responsible to remove everything down to at least 4 feet below ground and to restore the ground above it.
That could mean some concrete remains buried, but all the concrete at the surface would be removed.
MidAmerican gets 83% of the electricity it generates in Iowa from wind turbines, and Jablonski says the lifespan of new turbines is estimated at 40 years. Some older turbines are now having blades replaced or engines repaired, but few if any turbines in the state have reached the end of their lifespan.
Still, Zwagerman says farmers should be aware of what their specific contract says.
She says there are other questions surrounding the industry, such as how to dispose of the blades, which are made of a composite material which makes them difficult to recycle. That is an issue the industry is working to address, and Zwagerman says it needs to find a reasonable and environmentally friendly way to handle that disposal.
From a landowner perspective, she says the basic advice is always to read the contract and consult an attorney with any questions.