Decommissioning within the Solar Energy Industry

All across America we have seen the remains of commercial projects that have reached their productive life. Very often, they were constructed in natural landscapes full of vegetation and rolling hills. But within a very few years they are abandoned and left as an eyesore for all the community – often the source of increased crime. For these structures there is no recovery – only the very long and torturous process of decay. For these structures, there is an estimated 100 years where the building will retain enough structural integrity to remain standing and will do so unless the wrecking ball arrives first to hasten the demise. With the most recent building code changes, the estimates now forecast the time span is easily 150 years.

For some of the projects, the land will become more valuable and thus the wrecking ball will arrive within 20 years to replace unused buildings with new commercial options and uses. However, the vast majority of buildings and commercial structures from New Jersey to Arkansas will remain in tack and left to the natural elements.

So why is this a worry? Hasn’t this always been the natural order of commercial development? We all see the decay of a community as the newest and more viable commercial structures find new locations only to depart from a neighborhood or community long before the structures are removed from the natural landscape.

Why have our city and state representatives not passed laws that require commercial owners to demolish and remove eyesores from the community? Why is the decay process so prolonged? It is as if the sight of old and decaying commercial structures is valued in our neighborhoods and cities. However, even a quick interview of any citizen will often focus on old structures that hinder new development and commercial revitalization.

The only evidence of this new and more progressive attitude is evidenced in the solar energy field. For several years, many solar ordinances have required the planned removal of the solar field project once the commercial viability has been reached. In many instances, the requirement to remove the solar panels is mandated if the energy production is ceased in just a 12 month time span.

It seems incredible that the regulatory officials along with city and town leaders have focused exceptional effort on the removal of solar panels while at the same time have made few demands on other commercial structures. And the solar energy development industry seems completely in alignment with this approach as there are many recorded instances where the solar developers have openly agreed to “Decommissioning Plans”. These plans are the detailed process by which a solar field project will be dismantled and planned to return the land to it’s original character. In many cases the original land condition is exactly the same as the other adjacent commercial land developments that are in decay.

So why are not all commercial developments treated equally under the law? Why is the development of solar fields uniquely called out for decommissioning plans while other commercial structures – that often are in the same general location – allowed to be left for decades to decay?

Our belief is that all commercial structures should be treated fairly and equally under the development and regulatory laws. That when the useful life of a commercial structure has reached its limits, why not require all structures to be removed?

As well, why center decommissioning requirements on the solar energy industry only? By any time lapse comparison, a solar field – left to the natural elements – will in a very few years return to a natural landscaped condition. The landscape will literally overtake the solar field. However, a commercial structure left to the natural elements will take 100 to 150 years to decay and be overtaken by the natural environment.

It is time that we reconsider the treatment of a clearly environmentally friendly solar industry. While at the same time, perhaps it is time to reconsider the decommissioning plans for all commercial structures including offices, retail centers, restaurants, industrial development and the like so that all communities will benefit from the environmental stewardship of our natural and man made environments.