Sep. 15—A West Texas town has become a dumping spot for thousands of old wind turbine blades.
It started in 2017 when a stack of blades was placed in the town of Sweetwater, about 45 minutes from Abilene. Each blade is 150 to 200 feet long — longer than the wing of a Southwest Airlines jetliner — cut into thirds and stacked haphazardly on top of and next to its counterparts.
Six years later, the still-growing stacks of blades cover more than 30 acres on the west side of town. Another wind turbine graveyard south of town takes up about 10 more acres.
Washington state-based Global Fiberglass Solutions is behind the situation. It's been buying old turbine blades from energy companies and depositing 80% of them in Sweetwater. The industrial waste recycling company was founded in 2009 to address what it said was a lack of sustainable alternatives for nondegradable fiberglass.
"Together with Composite Material & Engineering Center at Washington State University, we developed patented process for recycling fiberglass composites," the company says on its website.
It has said it hopes to shred the blades and use the materials in other industries from railroads to flooring. But it has reportedly struggled to secure funding to buy the equipment needed to do that, resulting in the piles of blades lying idle in West Texas.
Residents of Sweetwater, a city of nearly 11,000 people in Nolan County, say the stacks of blades pose a threat to children playing nearby and those bold enough to explore the makeshift maze. Stagnant pools of water inside the blades provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes, they say, and rattlesnakes find comfort under the shadows the tall piles cast.
Outsiders could argue the wind turbine blade is one of the unofficial symbols of Sweetwater, because the surrounding county produces more wind energy than almost anywhere else on the planet. Since the late 1990s, the town's wind energy industry has fueled the local economy with turbine-related jobs and a boom for landowners whose properties host them. Even the welcome sign greeting drivers into the town is printed on a wind turbine blade.
As environmentally friendly wind energy is, decommissioned wind turbine blades are not. Burning a wind turbine blade emits pollutants. A diamond-encrusted industrial saw is allegedly needed to cut through the fiberglass that makes up a wind turbine blade. If left alone, the blade's fiber-enforced plastic will never break down.
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