State: Company illegally storing hundreds of old wind turbine blades at three Iowa sites

By: - July 7, 2021 3:16 pm

State environmental officials are asking the attorney general to investigate a Washington state-based company that has failed to recycle old wind turbine blades stored in Newton (shown), Ellsworth and Atlantic. (Photo from Iowa Department of Natural Resources files)

State environmental regulators say an out-of-state firm has illegally stored hundreds of wind turbine blades in three Iowa towns and should be investigated by the attorney general’s office. 

Global Fiberglass Solutions Inc. has a combined 1,300 turbines at sites in Newton, Atlantic and Ellsworth. Since 2017, the Washington state-based company has said it plans to recycle the blades.

It hasn’t. So Wednesday, the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission voted to refer the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ case against Global to the attorney general’s office. Global faced a series of DNR orders and agreements but missed deadlines to recycle the blades, bury them in certified landfills, or ship them out of state. 

The company also failed to provide a $2 million bond to cover the costs of disposal if the firm abandoned the sites. Otherwise, state officials fear, taxpayers could have to pay. 

Iowa over the years has faced a series of cases in which recyclers have accepted payments from people to take tires or other materials for recycling, then never processed them.

Nationally, tens of thousands of wind turbine blades have become worn or obsolete. They are hard to transport, and apparently hard to recycle or to take to a landfill. The issue has been covered by Bloomberg, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Scientific American.

The Iowa Society of Solid Waste Operations told the Des Moines Register in 2019 that the U.S. failed to consider what would be done with the hard-to-crush reinforced plastic blades when they ran their course at thousands of wind-turbine sites. 

James Pray, attorney for the owner of the Newton site, Phoenix Investments, said his client considers the 868 blades at the property abandoned. Pray said Global owes the site owner $1 million in rent. 

Global has about 400 blades stored at a site in Ellsworth and at least 22 in Atlantic, the state reported.

Global Fiberglass executive Don Lilly said via email, “I think you can say that we have always cooperated with Iowa DNR and we will continue to do so.”

In legal documents, DNR charges that Global has spent three years accumulating blades and hasn’t recycled any. Because the three sites were never approved as disposal sites, the blades have been disposed of improperly, DNR lawyers contend.

In February, the Iowa Economic Development Authority board terminated Global’s contract for assistance, at the company’s request. IEDA approved more than $200,000 in tax credits for Global. The firm had planned a $6.1 million capital investment and wanted to create 30 jobs paying more than $18 an hour.

The commission refers cases to the attorney general in large part because of an impasse or because the attorney general can seek stiffer penalties. 

In Sweetwater, Texas, Global has told local authorities it plans to turn old blades into plastic pellets or panels for reuse. The company’s website said the firm also plans to make railroad ties out of material from the blades.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed a comment on ownership of the blades to James Pray.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

Senior reporter Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.

MORE FROM AUTHOR