Turbine ‘graveyard’ removal underway near Ellsworth

By: - December 3, 2021 4:50 pm

Workers use a large saw to cut old wind turbine blades that have languished near Ellsworth. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Workers are in the process of cutting hundreds of discarded wind turbine blades into pieces and hauling them from their highly visible piles along U.S. Interstate 35 near Ellsworth.

“They’re progressing, as they say, and that’s all that we care about,” said Rick Young, a Hamilton County supervisor who lives near the blade stacks that have sat idle most of this year. “Obviously, it was distressing to a lot of people.”

Most of the blades were formerly used by MidAmerican Energy, which commissioned a Washington state-based company to recycle or dispose of them. That company, Global Fiberglass Solutions, accumulated about 1,300 of the blades at three sites in Iowa, including about 400 near Ellsworth.

Global Fiberglass Solutions accumulated about 400 old wind turbine blades near Ellsworth along U.S. Interstate 35. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Global Fiberglass Solutions did not respond to requests to comment for this article.

After the blades languished, the Iowa Attorney General’s Office intervened this summer. By September there was a plan to remove the Ellsworth blades and transport them to Tennessee.

“MidAmerican indicated they were working with Global Fiberglass to take care of the blades,” said Jacob Larson, an assistant attorney general.

Larson said the remediation process in Newton and Atlantic has been delayed as his office has sought to determine who is responsible for those turbine blade stockpiles. The Newton site had more than 800 blades.

A spokesperson for MidAmerican Energy confirmed the company was involved in the Ellsworth cleanup but declined to comment further.

Workers at the Ellsworth site are using a large buzzsaw to cut the blades into pieces. They began the work about two months ago, Young said. He estimated about half of the blades have been moved from the site.

Old wind turbine blades are difficult to dispose of because of their size and strength. Built of reinforced fiberglass to withstand tornadic winds, each stretches more than 100 feet.

The blades were initially discarded in landfills or burned, but there have been efforts in recent years to find ways to recycle them, including by using them as aggregates in concrete.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.

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