In what could have been an enormous burden on North Carolina’s thriving solar industry, Senate Bill 568 sought to create rules for what happens when a solar farm is decommissioned, but contained hefty costs, and was uninformed by research.
Bill sponsors Paul Newton, Bill Rabon, and Ralph Hise crafted the bill in a supposed attempt to be “good stewards of the environment.” And at face value, the bill could be construed as environmentally sound — proper cleanup, disposal, and recycling of renewable energy material are key in a continued push to eliminate environmental hazards, reduce fossil fuel dependence, and protect North Carolinians’ health.
Both those in the environmental field and the solar industry, however, found much cause for concern. The bill initially required heavy up-front insurance costs for new solar projects, which would have caused plummeting solar installation costs to skyrocket instead. Many also argued the bill’s disposal provisions are already common practices incorporated into solar companies’ contracts.
Overall, the bill simply lacked a factual, research-based foundation or enough stakeholder input to stand as a sound piece of legislation.
But in a surprising turn of events, Newton made good on his claim he simply wanted to ensure a clean end of life for solar technology. Committee testimony from solar industry representatives brought assurance that the senator was working closely with them to create a more informed, collaborative iteration of the bill.
In the end, S568 disappeared entirely. Instead, solar panel disposal requirements are now addressed in House Bill 329, which largely covers electric vehicle charging stations and small hydroelectric power facilities. It was amended to add a section requiring the Environmental Management Commission and Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to develop disposal and recycling regulations before January 1, 2022. This change allows ample time for DEQ to research best practices regarding solar panel waste disposal.
Additionally, the original bill required solar companies to provide upfront financial assurance before being granted a permit for solar operation. Instead, the new bill only requires DEQ to determine the necessity of financial assurance requirements and to ensure that utility-scale solar projects are properly decommissioned when their service is complete.
On Monday, July 1, the Senate passed H329 unanimously. Just a week later, the House concurred overwhelmingly, and Gov. Cooper signed the bill on July 19.