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Our opinion: There’s hidden costs with renewables

Debate over Rep. Kathy Rapp’s legislation to require proper bonding and reclamation of solar and wind energy facilities last week in the state House of Representatives Environmental Resources and Energy became contentious.

In his zeal to discredit Rapp, Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware, actually made Rapp’s point for her.

Rapp wants to have any alternative energy agreement include a decommissioning plan and proof of financing from a banking institution to pay to remove the solar panels and turbines. The plan would have to be updated regularly during the life of the solar and wind projects with money held in escrow for the eventual decommissioning. Rapp’s legislation also requires an updated decommissioning plan near the end of a solar or wind project’s lifetime that shows how much material will be salvaged, recycled, refurbished or disposed of in a landfill, and no more than 20% of the equipment’s total mass will be accepted in a landfill as part of the plan.

“What I would suggest to the maker of this bill is to clean up your own house first,” Vitali said. “By that I mean the maker of the bill is in oil and gas country and you have oil and gas wells now that are currently being abandoned, currently creating environmental problems, currently creating costs for taxpayers. They are woefully underbonded and yet you are attacking solar and wind. There are people in this house who I would call renewable energy haters, that’s what I would say. I would say it viscerally.”

Of course, if one thinks about Vitali’s criticism, his personal attack on Rapp makes the case for stringent bonding requirements for wind and solar projects. Of course oil and gas wells were woefully underbonded. Warren County is littered with abandoned oil and gas wells that state taxpayers now find themselves dealing with. One reason the county — and the state as a whole — has this issue is state legislators didn’t include proper bonding requirements when oil and gas leases were written. Rapp, to her credit, realizes the issue even while acknowledging the importance of the state’s oil and gas resources.

“I wasn’t around 100 years ago,” Rapp said during Tuesday’s committee meeting. “You may think I was representative (then) however I guess nobody thought 100 years ago we should up front have a plan for making sure that oil, gas and any other form of energy had a plan 100 years later. So this was the genesis of this bill, making sure we have a plan that will make sure that the next generation 20 or 30 years from now does not have to deal with the disposal of solar panels and wind turbines.”

Rapp’s bill needs to become law. State taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook to decommission wind and solar projects in the same way they are on the hook to cap abandoned oil and gas wells.

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