Wind Turbines Repurposed — FUD Dispatched!

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One of the enduring pieces of FUD misinformation that circulates in the miasma of the internet is that wind turbines (and other materials that are used for renewable energy generation) will end up in the landfill and destroy the Earth — much worse than coal, obviously.

Like all FUD, there is some truth in this. Early wind turbines are starting to be replaced by newer, bigger, and more efficient models. The towers and motors are easy, the blades are the issue. “Blades are one of the hardest things on a wind turbine to recycle,” says Katrina Swalwell, a wind engineer and technical director at Aurecon, an engineering consultancy that’s been active in the wind industry since its inception in Australia. “They’re fibreglass, often with quite a lot of structural components in there as well,” she adds.

“Australia currently has no facilities for recycling fibreglass, leaving the turbine blades hanging in the proverbial air. As the time approaches for the earliest Australian wind turbines to be decommissioned, solutions are needed to avoid the blades and other components becoming part of landfill.”

What do we do with the decommissioned wind turbines?

An innovative step has been taken by Advanced Energy Resources — used wind turbine blades have been sourced from Holland and imported into Australia. The wind turbines have been shipped and then trucked to the West Australian outback to help power AER’s microgrid, supplying power to Moora businesses.

Founded in 2006, Advanced Energy Resources (AER) is a diverse West Australian power generator, electricity retailer and energy company with extensive experience in the development, construction and operation of renewable energy generators,” the company writes. “AER is part of the Castelli Group which has a proud history of being WA owned and operated for over forty years. Each of our business sectors are driven by a focus on quality, integrity and sustainability, and are backed by the strength and integrity of the Castelli Group and a proven and diverse track record which sets us apart from other energy companies.”

Clean Energy Future Fund funding has been critical to the project’s success. The Castelli Moora Microgrid hybrid power station will be funded by West Australia’s Clean Energy Future Fund to the tune of $1.8 million. The project will consist of a biomass, wind, and battery microgrid incorporating existing solar PV and serving a piggery and citrus farm, and potentially other farms in the Moora district.

“The beautiful country town of Moora is situated on the banks of the Moore River in the Wheatbelt Region of Western Australia,” the town itself writes. “It is surrounded by impressive Salmon Gums, beautiful parks, gardens and heritage buildings and is a popular stopover for tourists following the Wildflower Trail. The shire is central to a number of attractions in the Midlands including coastal towns such as Jurien Bay and Lancelin. The Pinnacles in the Nambung National Park at Cervantes is also a major drawcard. The Moora town site is only 55 km from the Benedictine Monastery town of New Norcia which also attracts many tourists.” Indeed, Majella and I have driven through the area — about 10 years ago — and can attest to its beauty. It is a couple of hours north of Perth. In 2021, the town had a population of about 1800.

“Moora lies within the Moora Important Bird Area, declared by BirdLife International because it supports up to 60 breeding pairs of the endangered Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo,” Wikipedia notes. “Surrounding the town are several rural activities (such as the growing of wheat, barley, canola, oaten hay and lupins, as well as the raising of sheep, cattle and pigs) and a silica mine located 15 km north of the townsite.”

Luca Castelli recently posted a video of the transport of the wind turbine blades to Moora on LinkedIn. You can watch it here:

In case you cannot see the LinkedIn post above, he comments: “Over several weeks, Moora microgrid’s four refurbished 1.8MW Enercon E66 wind turbines have been travelling to site following the sea voyage from their previous home in the Netherlands. See how a single blade almost 35m in length makes its way from Perth to its new home in Moora/Dandaragan. Following a successful wind farm delivery of five refurbished 0.5MW Enercon E40 wind turbines at Port Gregory (near Kalbarri, WA) AER has managed all aspects of the dismantling and recommissioning of Moora’s four turbines. Moora microgrid will soon commence supplying renewable energy to local energy users in the Dandaragan/Moora area as a 7+MW microgrid incorporating wind, PV, biogas, battery storage and almost 50km of private HV network.” This is the culmination of six years of work.

The reference to the Port Gregory operation refers to a previous installation to power a garnet mine. Port Gregory is situated about 500 km north of Perth. Here, five refurbished wind turbines power GMA’s industrial garnet mine.

GMA Garnet Group describes itself as the trusted global leader in industrial garnet, supplying garnet for abrasive blasting and waterjet cutting. It supplies 600,000 tons of garnet per year to over 80 countries. The company has 40 years of experience and 450 employees globally.

“As the only vertically integrated garnet abrasive supplier, GMA produces rigorously tested products at scale while minimising the possibility of supply chain disruption.”

Sadly, not this sort of garnet. Photo courtesy of Majella Waterworth.

AER may have discovered a rich vein of interest in using older technology to power hybrid energy farms. West Australia is dry and warm, and so there should be little degradation of the equipment imported. It would be interesting to find out the cost to dismantle an existing wind turbine, ship it to Australia, and then refurbish and possibly upgrade to Australian standards. Perhaps readers might like to comment. And how much life would be left in such a device? I expect AER would have worked out the cost and return-on-investment (ROI) ratio.

Apparently, in the UK, you can buy a 10-year-old dismantled 500 kW wind turbine with extra parts for under £40 thousand, almost scrap value because the industry has moved to far larger models. High disposal costs will also encourage the sale of older wind turbines at lower prices.

I would love to have one of these in my backyard!

It looks like a second-hand market is forming and AER (and other companies) will take advantage, setting them up in Australia’s remote areas to replace the diesel that is currently being used and to supplement the solar that is already installed. The question may be, is it cheaper to put in batteries or second-hand wind turbines? As wind turbines are replaced in more mature markets, these second-hand turbines may help the newer markets in the least developed countries to move towards wind, as they have done for solar.

Does this mean that there are no landfill issues, after all? Has one more piece of FUD been dispatched? Not yet, but the projects undertaken by AER give hope that a viable solution is pending.


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David Waterworth

David Waterworth is a retired teacher who divides his time between looking after his grandchildren and trying to make sure they have a planet to live on. He is long on Tesla [NASDAQ:TSLA].

David Waterworth has 750 posts and counting. See all posts by David Waterworth