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Tribal Energy and Environmental Information Clearinghouse: Environmental resources for tribal energy development
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Solar Energy Decommissioning/Site Reclamation: Resource Requirements and Impact Sources

Decommissioning and site reclamation activities include facility removal and site revegetation.

Decommissioning of a solar energy project would include removal of solar system components, buildings, concrete pads, foundations, tanks, and other components. Potentially hazardous materials in evaporation ponds, molten salt storage tanks, and other site facilities would be properly handled and removed for off-site disposal. Underground components would be removed to a depth of at least three feet to ensure an unobstructed root zone for revegetation. More deeply buried components might be abandoned in place. Following removal of these components, site reclamation and revegetation would mitigate some impacts, such as soil erosion, habitat fragmentation, and visual impacts.

The following factors could affect whether an environmental impact could occur at a solar energy project and whether it would be considered an adverse effect.

  • Acreage – Virtually the entire land area of the solar development will be impacted by decommissioning and deconstruction activities. Transmission lines would probably remain in place as part of the transmission grid. Otherwise, the components would be removed for disposal or recycling. Decommissioning of pipelines would range from the removal of only the aboveground components to removal of the entire pipeline and ancillary components.
  • Emissions – Decommissioning and reclamation activities would produce fugitive dust emissions, vehicular and equipment emissions (including diesel generators used to supply power), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from storage and use of fuels for equipment.
  • Waste Generation - Solid and industrial wastes would be similar to those resulting from construction, broken concrete, solar collector and power block components, electronic equipment and transformers. Disposal of solar cells and thin films that contain cadmium or other heavy metals can be a concern. Potentially hazardous wastes in evaporation ponds, molten salt storage tanks, and other tanks or waste disposal sites would need to be properly handled and transported to licensed off-site locations.
  • Water Needs – Water would be needed for dust suppression, fire-fighting, and potable supply for the workforce.
  • Workforce – Decommissioning and reclamation activities would require approximately one-half to two-thirds of the construction workforce, for a period lasting about half as long as construction, and would require specialty crews for some operations (such as solar collector dismantlement).