Mitchell city officials on alert after H&R salvage owner hauls wind turbine blades across state lines
“We don’t want to become a wind turbine dumping ground for every wind turbine farm in the country,” Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson said.
MITCHELL — One by one, truckers hauled a handful of wind turbine blades on Friday into a salvage yard that sits on the west edge of Mitchell.
The massive blades came from a Minnesota wind farm that’s filled with wind turbines that are reaching the end of their lifespan. When turbines reach the end of their life cycle — which typically spans about 20 to 25 years — the large blades are usually disposed of at nearby landfills willing to accept them.
However, the blades are notoriously tough to recycle. With the difficulty of recycling the fiberglass blades, they have begun piling up at some landfills in the Upper Midwest. In recent years, some cities have enacted restrictions on the number of blades its landfill will allow wind farm companies to discard.
While it’s common for the blades, that range in size of around 120 feet, to end up in landfills, Robert Ball, owner of Mitchell-based H&R Salvage, said his team of drivers are hauling the blades from Minnesota to Rapid City. Ball said the blades were temporarily being stored at the Mitchell area H&R Salvage and will be transported to a Rapid City cement plant where they will be broken down to make a cement mixture.
“The cement plant has found a way to break them down and use them for cement mix. It’s a real slick process,” Ball said.
In recent years, Ball has hauled wind blades in chopped up form into the City of Mitchell’s old landfill, located at 2801 E. Havens St. However, the blades he transported from Minnesota are prohibited to be disposed of at Mitchell’s old landfill due to the city’s regulations.
Although the city and Davison County allow wind turbine blades to be disposed of at the old landfill on the east side of Mitchell , so long as they are cut into roughly 6 to 7-foot pieces, Public Works Director Joe Schroeder said the blades have to come from turbines that are within the surrounding Mitchell area. That means any blades from wind turbines outside of South Dakota are not permitted to be disposed of at the city’s old landfill.
Street and Sanitation Supervisor Kevin Roth confirmed Monday that no wind turbine blades had been brought to the city’s old landfill to be disposed of in recent weeks. Schroeder also noted the city’s landfill on the south edge of Mitchell, where the city and surrounding area towns utilize for trash disposal and other waste, does not allow wind turbine blades to be dumped there.
“The blades that came out of Minnesota are not coming into the landfill,” Roth said Tuesday in an interview with the Mitchell Republic.
As of now, there are no state laws in South Dakota prohibiting blades coming from out of the state to be disposed of at local landfills. However, there have been a growing number of municipal governments that have placed restrictions on allowing blades into their landfills, with some prohibiting blades coming from out-of-state wind turbines.
In Mitchell, the city has implemented several regulations for blade disposal at the old landfill, including the requirement that blades must be cut into smaller pieces and have to come from turbines within the surrounding area that Roth says is about a 70-mile radius around Mitchell. When the blades are hauled into the east landfill site, Roth said they are buried under dirt.
Roth was recently informed of the Rapid City cement plant using the wind turbine blades for cement mix. If the plant is capable of breaking down the wind turbine blades for cement mixture as Ball claims, Roth said it would be a “big deal” for the disposal process of the blades and for landfills across the country.
“It’s one of the first ways I’ve heard of someone being able to recycle the blades,” Roth said.
‘We don’t want Mitchell to become a dumping ground for wind turbine blades’
While wind turbines have long been touted as a green renewable energy source, the disposal process of the blades has some questioning how green wind energy really is.
Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson is among those who are skeptical about the greenness of wind turbines, in part due to the difficulty of recycling the blades and watching them take up landfill space.
“When the blades are disposed of at the landfills, they sit there and last forever. They do not biodegrade. How is that considered a form of green energy?” Everson questioned.
Sioux Falls’ landfill recently saw a sudden influx in blades being disposed of after a pair of Iowa wind farms dumped more than 100 blades about two years ago, which prompted city officials to stop allowing turbine blades at the landfill unless they are manipulated in a way that reduces their large footprint, the Argus Leader reported in 2019.
Blades usually weigh between 14 to 19 tons, and Mitchell’s old landfill is permitted to collect 5,000 tons of trash. Although city officials say the old landfill has seen few blades be disposed of in a ravine, Everson doesn’t want to run into the same problem Sioux Falls had a few years ago.
“We don’t want to become a wind turbine dumping ground for every wind turbine farm in the country,” Everson said. "We will take what we can until it's getting too full. We don't expect to be overrun with blades at the old landfill."
According to Roth, Ball has hauled a total of 15 blades into the old landfill since the city began accepting them roughly two years ago. As of now, Ball has been the only individual to discard blades in Mitchell.
When the Davison County Commission unanimously approved allowing Ball to discard the blades at the east landfill in Mitchell in 2019, Commissioner John Claggett criticized the disposal process of the blades, saying “it’s really not recycling.” While the Davison County Commission granted Ball permission to discard blades at the old landfill, the five-person governing body prohibited wind turbines from being built within Davison County boundaries surrounding the Mitchell area.
“I’m getting asked, ‘We don’t have active wind farms here, why do we bring that in?'" Claggett said during the Dec. 10, 2019, commission meeting. "I understand those arguments. Can’t envision why this is called recycling when it’s thrown away. ... It’s really not recycling. It’s garbage.”
Considering the minimal amount of blades that have been disposed of at the old landfill, Schroeder said the city has not put a cap on the number of blades it will allow.
“We are closely monitoring the number of blades that come into the east landfill, and it’s been a small amount. We haven’t looked at putting a cap on them because of the minimal number of blades we’ve seen brought in, but we could reevaluate how many we allow if they start piling up in large quantities,” Schroeder said.