Bills establish solar, wind disposal studies and statehouse energy audit advance in Senate

January 20, 2023

A pair of bills that would launch a study on what to do with spent renewable fuel materials and an energy audit for state buildings in downtown Indianapolis easily advanced through its first hurdle in the Indiana Senate.

The Senate Committee on Utilities passed Senate Bill 33, which seeks to launch a study on the decommission and disposal of solar panels and wind turbines, and Senate Bill 221, which would authorize energy audits on the statehouse and several other state buildings.

SB33, authored by Sen. Greg Walker and Senate Committee on Utilities chair Sen. Eric Koch, would require the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to conduct a joint study on the decommissioning and disposal of solar panels. The bill was later amended to include wind turbines.

“With the rapid expansion of wind and solar generation capacity and interest, it is time to consider this impact on the environment from depreciated wind and solar assets,” said Walker when introducing the bill.

Solar panels are mostly made with glass, aluminum, copper and silicon but can also contain several grams of heavy metals that are toxic to humans, like cadmium and lead.

Wind turbine blades are mostly made of steel, fiberglass, resin or plastic, iron, copper and aluminum. Nearly all of the blade can be recycled, including the fiberglass, but few companies choose to do it.

Solar panels and wind turbine blades usually end up in landfills. There, the heavy metals found in some solar panels could leach into the surrounding environment.

Some states, like California, only allow solar panels to be disposed in landfills with extra safeguards against leakage.

“The federal Department of Interior estimates 8 million tons of electronic waste that is going to reach its working life by 2030 and 80 million tons by 2050. So, what are we going to do with this waste?” asked Walker.

If the bill becomes law, the joint study would require IDEM and IURC to consider the creation of a state program to manage and dispose of solar panels and wind turbine blades; determine which agency would run the program; consider how the program would be funded; and establish criteria for the disposal and recycling of wind and solar components.

The topics would be included in a report to the Legislature by Nov. 1.

SB33 was supported at the committee meeting by the Citizens Action Coalition, Earth Charter Indiana and the Hoosier Environmental Council.

SB 221, authored by Sen. Andy Zay, would require the Indiana Department of Administration to issue a request for proposals and award a contract for energy audits for the Indiana Statehouse and Indiana government center north and south buildings.

“A lot of our local communities are looking at their city buildings and their fire stations. Private industry is constantly looking at their utilization of utilities and that sort of thing. So, what I thought is, ‘Are we looking in our own backyard?’” Zay said when introducing the bill. “Are we looking at ourselves as leaders in this and considering if we are operating this building in the most efficient manner possible?”

The IDOA said the agency does utility readings daily but has not performed an audit on the buildings in the bill.

In 1999, Gov. Frank O’Bannon signed an executive order creating the Indiana “Greening the Government Initiatives,” which ordered state government agencies to undertake various “green” sustainability measures, including establishing a task force that would set energy-efficient operational policies.

O’Bannon died of a stroke in 2003, but the administrations of Gov. Joe Kernan and Gov. Mitch Daniels continued the “Greening the Government Initiatives.” Gov. Mike Pence did not continue the initiative.

A previous version of the bill included a provision that would approve a study looking at a state strategic reserve of coal. Zay said he would ask Senate leadership to add that provision to the summer study committee for utilities.

SB33 will now be considered by the full Senate. SB221 will head to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Bills establish solar, wind disposal studies and statehouse energy audit advance in Senate