What to do with expired solar panels? Threats to public safety and the environment? Maybe we should study this. Right, NCGA?

There are lost of reasons to be concerned about the impact of the solar industry on NC’s economy. Aside from higher energy costs and subsides for decades, what to do with spent solar panels once they’ve outlived their usefulness is yet another concern.  See here and here and here for questions, concerns and alerts on problems associated with decommissioning solar panels.  Clearly a serious problem in need of careful consideration and a well researched solution.  Which makes it so puzzling that the General Assembly, having included language for a study, unexpectedly just left it out. It literally just disappeared from the bill.  Like someone just turned the lights out.

Earlier this week, a study of utility scale solar projects in the state and the advisability of establishing permitting and recycling requirements for such projects was included on page 20 of HB 765, Regulatory Reform Act of 2015.  Here’s what it said:

SECTION 4.2.(b) The Department of Environment and Natural Resources shall study issues associated with siting and operation of utility-scale solar projects in the State. The Department shall report its findings, including specific recommendations for legislative action, to the Environmental Review Commission on or before April 1, 2016. In the conduct of this study, the Department shall examine and report on all of the following issues: 

(1) The current number of utility-scale solar projects installed in North Carolina, as well as those projects currently under construction, and projections for future growth of utility-scale solar projects anticipated in the State. For projects installed, and for those under construction, the Department shall provide information on the location, the number of solar panels included in the project, the power to be generated from the project, and whether the land on which the project is located is leased or owned by the project’s owner. For projects installed, and for those under construction, the Department shall also estimate all power expected to be generated from these projects in total and the effect of this contribution to the electrical grid in terms of stability and reliability. 

(2) Current State and federal law governing siting and operation of utility-scale solar projects. In addition, the Department shall review other state laws governing utility-scale solar projects. 

(3) Landowner concerns that may arise from siting and operation of utility-scale solar projects, including liability issues.

(4) Potential environmental impacts associated with utility-scale solar projects, including the following:

a. Waste management issues associated with solar panels, and particularly the advisability of establishing a requirement that such panels be recycled. In assessing the need for such a program, the Department shall identify the following:

                        1 Materials included in panels that may be recyclable.

2.Materials included in panels that may be considered hazardous, and which would pose a threat to public health, safety, and welfare; the environment; or natural resources, if improperly disposed

3. Costs associated with the separation of any hazardous components contained in solar panels

4. The current market for any recyclable components contained in solar panels.

5. The State’s capacity for disposal of materials from solar panels in landfills.

b.The impervious and pervious nature of solar panels and any potential storm water runoff issues.

(5) The advisability of establishing a permitting process, similar to that in place for wind energy facilities under Article 21C of Chapter 143 of the General Statutes.

Sound reasonable? Good start to address what to do with the hundreds of solar panels across North Carolina due to expire in the next few years?  Who will be left holding the bag?  Seem like good questions?  Yeah, it does to me too.  Why then would the General Assembly just leave it out?


Becki Gray / Senior Vice President

Becki Gray is Senior Vice President of the John Locke Foundation. She provides information, consultation, and publications to elected officials, government staff and other dec...

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