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What communities need to know about solar arrays

Solar panels are seen on the roof of the Babilonia Rio Hostel, one of the first places to use solar energy in the favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, June 4, 2021. The non-governmental group Revolusolar is bringing solar energy to the favela, installing and teaching local residents how to maintain and use renewable energy. (AP Photo/Bruna Prado)
Bruna Prado
Solar panels are seen on a roof.

Local leaders are often excited by the prospect of solar farms. They’re quiet neighbors that generate tax revenue, but they don’t increase traffic or send kids to public schools. There is, however, one detail communities need to consider before approving solar arrays.

“Communities shouldn’t bear the financial burden of removing a solar field that has reached the end of its useful life.”

Irene Cox and colleagues at UVA's Weldon Cooper Center produced a report on decommissioning solar farms
The Weldon Cooper Center
Irene Cox and colleagues at UVA's Weldon Cooper Center produced a report on decommissioning solar farms

Irene Cox is a graduate policy intern. at UVA’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. She says a solar panel is less efficient after 30 years.

“It actually still produces power at about 80% of its rated capacity, but by that point it’s more cost-effective to decommission those panels, so you could shut down the plant entirely, or what’s much more likely, you could fit it with new, more efficient, higher output panels.”

Either way, she and her colleagues have crafted a report advising communities on the deal they should strike with developers – noting that decommissioning a large solar array could take months and cost more than a million dollars. That said, it’s cheaper than removing other energy-generating hardware.

“For comparison, the U.S. Regulatory Commission notes that nuclear facilities cost $300-$400 million to decommission.”

Cox adds that materials used to construct a solar farm have some salvage value, and she says there will likely be a way to recycle panels in the years to come.

You can find more information here.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief