Southern States Address Solar Facility Decommission

As Southern states pass their first decade of solar photovoltaic (PV) development, state policy-makers can view a horizon when many tons of solar PV equipment will require removal and disposal. Solar PV panels wear down under weather exposure, and at about twenty-four years cease useful and economic efficiency in generating electricity, and must be removed. Most solar PV facilities are developed by private companies upon leases with private landowners, which generally require the PV facility owner to remove equipment and restore land. However, such leases rarely address the specific costs of decommission, nor guarantee cash will be available to pay the costs, potentially exposing taxpayers and ratepayers to the financial burden of decommission. Land restoration has been a concern of rural communities and farm producers who have lost access to productive farmland devoted to solar PV development. 

Though disposal of solar PV equipment is regulated under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) (42 U.S.C. § 6901 et seq), decommission requirements are left to state authority. VirginiaLouisianaNorth Carolina and Texas have enacted solar “end of life” (EOL) disposal legislation, and South Carolina recently allocated state budget funds to regulatory development. In other states without regulation, counties may still require decommission plans as a condition for rezoning for a solar PV facility. (Such a model ordinance has been drafted in Georgia.) Indeed Virginia’s statute places upon its counties a developer requirement of financial assurance in exercising zoning approval authority. 

Under North Carolina’s regulatory mandate, the NC Department of Environmental Quality recently completed an in-depth stakeholder study exploring costs of decommission and site restoration, future recycling markets to offset such costs, the timing of waste volume (for example, see figure 1), and waste management capacity and hazardous waste determination. The report provides a detailed window into decommission issues, which may serve as a model for other Southern regulators. Click here for more on the North Carolina Report.

Figure 1. Timing of Solar PV Waste Volume in North Carolina (courtesy NC Department of Environmental Quality)

Branan, Robert Andrew. “Southern States Address Solar Facility Decommission.” Southern Ag Today 1(49.5). December 3, 2021. Permalink