State Legislature Considers Regulations for Decommissioned Solar Panels

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Earlier this summer the New York State Senate passed a bi-partisan bill (S. 942) to require the Department of Environmental Conservation’s (“DEC”) to adopt regulations governing the collection and disposition of solar panels that are taken out of service when solar energy projects are decommissioned. Entitled the “Solar Panel Collection Act,” the legislation aims to establish recycling infrastructure and protocols for solar panels that are decommissioned.

The Solar Panel Collection Act does not yet have a companion bill in the Assembly, but it seems fairly likely that one could be forthcoming, given the bi-partisan nature of S. 942 and the rapid growth of solar energy projects across the state. It seems inevitable that a regulatory regime will emerge to develop a recycling infrastructure for the vast number of solar panels that are and will be deployed as the state advances toward the renewable energy goals mandated by the recently-enacted Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

As solar energy projects become more commonplace across the state, developers often face questions about the lifespan of the equipment used to convert the sun’s energy into electricity, and about the ultimate destination for that equipment as it reaches its effective life limit or is replaced with better models. Until recently, solar developers have been left to hypothesize that, as with any industry that is in a relatively early stage of development, opportunities and requirements are likely to be introduced that will address such questions.

The Solar Panel Collection Act, as currently constituted, promises to take shape in a manner similar to legislation requiring the tracking and reporting of other products containing materials that, if improperly handled, recycled or disposed, could produce undesirable environmental consequences. The legislation would mandate that solar panel manufacturers, as a condition of doing business in New York, either individually or collectively, establish a cradle-to-grave program beginning with the establishment of collection sites, from which they will transport and recycle out-of-service solar panels. The program would also include an education component to promote the collection and recycling of out-of-service panels. The legislation prohibits the charging of fees or other charges to consumers or persons participating in the program.

The legislation imposes restrictions on the demolition of buildings containing solar panels and on the manner in which out-of-service panels may be disposed. Specifically, transporters of panels may not knowingly deliver or knowingly cause to be delivered solar panels to an incinerator, landfill, transfer station or a facility at which the transporter “knows or should know” will either commingle such materials with other waste or deliver such materials to an incinerator, or landfill for disposal. Landfill operators would also be prohibited from knowingly accepting solar panels for disposal, and transfer station operators would be prohibited from knowingly commingling solar panels with other solid waste or causing such materials to be transferred to an incinerator or landfill for disposal.

The legislation includes reporting and tracking requirements for solar panel manufacturers who do business in the state. In addition, the DEC will be required to report back to the Governor on the effectiveness of the collection programs and the success of the effort to recycle and divert from disposal out-of-service panels.

The Solar Panel Collection Act will likely not only regulate the solar energy industry; it may open up opportunities for new businesses to emerge. As New York state’s solar energy development landscape matures, there appear to be opportunities developing for those who may not be involved in the front end of solar project development to generate business at the back end through the development of collection and recycling sites. These sites will surely come under regulation as well.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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