Wind Turbines and Land Fills

Wind Turbines and Land Fills

There are approximately 60,576 wind turbines in the USA according to the latest data mapped by Berkeley Laboratory.

In searching the map, I identified approximately 1,250 turbines rated 3 MW or higher and possibly as many as 2,500 units that were less than 1 MW or unidentifiable.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) says there are 57,000 wind turbines in operation in the united Staes.

As a result, I’ll assume there are 56,000 turbines whose average rating is 1.75 MW, plus an additional 1,250 that are rated 3 MW or higher.

Knowing the approximate number and size of turbines allows a determination of the average length of turbine blades  The blade length can be used to arrive at an approximation of the amount of landfill space the blades will occupy when the turbines are replaced after approximately 20 years of service.

The blades probably can’t be reused since new turbines will likely be larger and blades will be longer.

Turbines rated 1.75 MW use blades that are approximately 40 meters long, or 130 feet long. Length varies, but 130 feet is a good average for wind turbines rated between 1.5 and 2.0 MW. Units rated 3 MW can have blades over 200 feet long.

The unusual shape of the blade means there will be a great deal of space lost if stacked one on the other.

Picture from Wikipedia

There are three blades per wind turbine, so approximately 168,000 blades will have to be put into landfills over the next 20 years.

Actually, this is already happening.

The Casper Regional Landfill is being used to dispose of over 900 blades from wind turbines being dismantled in nearby wind installations. The landfill is charging around $750 per blade.

Fiberglass doesn’t biodegrade, so wind turbine blades will be there for a long, long time. For a number of reasons, only composites can be used for making blades.

The accompanying pictures also illustrate that the shape of the blade makes it difficult to determine the space it will occupy in a land fill. For our purposes we will calculate the volume of a cylinder that’s five feet in diameter. 

In practice, the blades will likely be cut into sections for ease of handling, and will be nested as best as possible in the landfill.

Blade Repair and End View of Blade

While the blades won’t fill the 1,900 landfills in the US, it’s interesting to visualize what it means to dispose of 168,000 wind turbine blades.

Based on the volumes arrived at using a five foot diameter for the blades, the 168,000 blades will fill to overflowing all 32 National Football League stadiums that are, on average 250 feet tall.

There would be 50 layers of 78 blades, laid out across the field, covering all the field, and when stacked 50 high, reaching to the brim of the stadium. To this are added additional blades layered across all the rows of seats to occupy the remaining volume of the stadium.

All 168,000 blades would be used in this fashion, with a few of the 3 MW, 200 foot long blades thrown in to assure the stadiums are all full.

The 32 NFL football stadiums, filled to overflowing, will be the space required in our landfills to accommodate the wind turbines that will be retired over the next twenty years.

Imagine what this would mean if we were to rely on wind turbines, in combination with PV solar, to supply all our electricity for the next hundred years?

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4 Replies to “Wind Turbines and Land Fills”

  1. “The blades probably can’t be reused since new turbines will likely be larger and blades will be longer.”

    If the disposal problem is recognized, don’t you think utilities and/or legislators will use/require new turbines that can be used without replacing the old blades? The next question: what is the life of the blades?


    • Thanks for your comment.
      New turbines are larger because they are more efficient so it’s unlikely that anyone will require the use of less efficient wind turbines. Efficiency increases as the wind turbines are taller to reach the stronger winds.
      No one knows the useful life of the blades at this point, but the life of the wind turbine is around twenty years with the gears, Yaw and pitch controls, and blades the most likely components to have the shortest lives.

  2. Two points.
    There is a lot fiberglass scrapes when they manufacture the blades This goes to the landfills now. It will there till the end of time.
    The basil wood blocks used to built the blades are soaked with epoxy which will slow down the decomposing in the landfills.

    • Thanks for the information.
      This adds to the long term environmental problem of disposing of wind turbine blades.