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  • At the end of the life of a wind farm (around 20 to 25 years), the site must be decommissioned
  • The decommissioning process is an obligation of the wind farm owner
  • Landowners should protect their interests by ensuring the obligations of the wind farm owner regarding infrastructure removal and site restoration are clearly set out in the wind farm lease 

Wind farms typically have a lifespan of about 20 to 25 years. As they reach the conclusion of their lives, the project owners determine whether to decommission the site, restoring the area to its previous land use, or negotiate with landowners to upgrade equipment to extend the wind farm’s operational lifespan.

If the wind farm will not be refurbished and continued, the site will be decommissioned and remediated. The decommissioning process is always the responsibility of the owner of the wind farm.

The decommissioning process involves the removal of the wind turbines, site office and any other ancillary infrastructure from the site. Roads and foundation pads are covered and revegetated, allowing the land to be returned to its former use. Some parts of the wind farm that serve a functional purpose, such as powerlines or other electricity infrastructure, might be retained.

The exact obligations will be contained as conditions to the development approvals and provisions in contracts made between the landowner and the operator. These may stipulate the amount of time that may lapse between the wind farm’s end of life and the decommissioning, and precise requirements for rehabilitation of the site.

Landowners should protect their interests in their land in relation to the decommissioning process by ensuring the following occurs:

  1. Before the wind farm lease is executed, the lease should contain detailed provisions on the removal and restoration process to be undertaken at the conclusion of the lease.
  2. A simple decommissioning plan should be created at the time the lease is entered into, and prior to construction. The decommissioning plan is to comply with the provisions in the lease (and any development approval) regarding the removal of the wind farm infrastructure and the restoration of the land.
  3. Towards the end of the lease, the wind farm owner will typically consult with each landowner to determine what infrastructure will be removed and what will be retained.
  4. In the final years of the lease, the decommissioning plan should be reviewed and contain specific details in relation to timing, funding, and any other changes agreed by the parties.
  5. This involves the wind farm owner undertaking an estimate of the decommissioning cost and advising the landowner. The salvage or resale value of the wind farm components will also be estimated.
  6. The wind farm owner should ensure the appropriate financial arrangements have been made to facilitate the decommissioning.
  7. The wind farm owner might provide financial security (such as bank deposit, bank guarantee or letter of credit), set aside solely for the decommissioning costs. The funds should be sufficient to satisfy the landowner.
  8. The landowner might request the wind farm owner to advise of the balance of the decommissioning account or value of the financial security provided. The landowner may, at their expense, review the decommissioning cost assessment and audit the account.
  9. If the wind farm owner company is wound up before the decommissioning and remediation process is commenced or completed, control of the decommissioning fund or other financial security should be given to the landowners or to the administrator, to complete the decommissioning process.

 

Conclusion

 

Wind farm owners have obligations to decommission wind farms at the end of the wind farm’s life. Landowners should protect their interests by ensuring that the restoration obligations at decommissioning are clearly established from the outset.