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Mitchell South Dakota: Home of The Corn Palace and Wind Turbine Blade Landfill Exhibit?

Mitchell, South Dakota is famous for the corn palace, but it appears the community is also known among wind companies as a place to dispose of wind turbine blades that are no longer useful. According to the Mitchell Republic:

“Who will take the old, unrecyclable blades that are being replaced on South Dakota’s wind turbines? The city of Mitchell is positioning to take those in, and a Davison County board gave a Mitchell business approval to dismantle blades Tuesday.

Bob Ball, who runs H&R Salvage of Mitchell, is in the business of destroying blades, something he says he’s already doing with success in Iowa, where the issue has become a hot topic with increasingly aging blades.

Ball is already leading the demolition and burying of turbine blades in Lake Mills, Iowa, working out agreements to cut up old General Electric turbine blades and putting them into a Waste Management landfill.

“They don’t let just any hillbilly get their blades and cut them up,” he told the Davison County Planning Commission. “I’m the most successful of anyone they know for chopping them up.”

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory states that wind turbines only last for 20 years, compared to 80 years for a nuclear power plant, as I wrote about yesterday. That means that the thousands of wind turbines built throughout the Midwest, with three blades apiece, will need to be disposed of in the coming decade.

Breaking down the blades is no easy task because they are massive and designed to be strong enough to withstand the constant blowing of the wind:

Those blades would be cut down to 50-foot pieces and eventually down to 3-by-7-foot sections and would be placed in a ravine at Mitchell’s Old Landfill, which is located at 2801 E. Havens St. (Mitchell’s current 160-acre landfill, located southeast of the city on 257th Street, would not be taking wind turbine pieces, the city officials said.)

Despite their reputation as a “green” energy source, the turbine blades are not biodegradable:

Those turbine pieces are made of non-toxic fiberglass and essentially don’t decay or disintegrate over time. It’s that potential “white elephant” factor that makes them a burden when they’re no longer usable for wind turbines, drawing the concern of Davison County Commission Chairwoman Brenda Bode.

“You’re burying something that will never go away,” Bode said. “This is taking up land, making a footprint that is never going to be used. We need to do some due diligence.”

The amount of space these turbines would consume has been concerning for local officials, who are looking for new ways to handle the influx of blades:

“That’s why we’re considering the higher fee,” Croce said. “We want to deter haulers from coming in and using our landfill. We want them to be using the landfills in their contracted area.”

Bode said that neither the city nor the county has the money for another landfill, so the decisions on how much material Mitchell is willing to take needs to be weighed carefully.

“Is it worth filling it up with wind turbines? … Everyone wants someone else to take their garbage,” she said.

Commissioner John Claggett alluded that wind energy companies have been shopping around to various municipalities and counties to find places to take their old blades. Sioux Falls, for example, stopped allowing turbines to be dumped at the city’s landfill, but only after two Iowa wind farms dumped more than 100 turbine blades, each measuring more than 120 feet long, the Argus Leader reported.”

More people need to understand that all sources of energy production have environmental impacts, and there is no such thing as consequence-free energy. Only once people really understand this inescapable truth will we be able to have a real conversation about the relative merits and demerits of different energy sources in Minnesota.

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