Power Plant Decommissioning and Dismantling: PG&E’s Kern River Power Plant—28 Years and Waiting

By Paul Gipe

The question about what to do with wind turbines after they’ve reached the end of their useful lives is often raised out of fear that derelict wind turbines will litter the landscape. As I’ve explained elsewhere, wind turbines are not like conventional power plants, they are located to take advantage of the resources—the wind. Thus, when one wind turbine is removed another is often installed in its place.

However, conventional power plants are often removed. They are first decommissioned then dismantled.

While I’ve written that wind turbines should be removed when they are derelict, it is reasonable to compare this simple request with how electric utilities—at least in the US—handle decommissioning and removal.

The answer, unfortunately, is very, very, slowly.

Take Pacific Gas & Electric’s (PG&E) handling of its Kern Power Plant in Bakersfield, California where I live.

The plant was built in 1948 and operated 37 years until 1985 when it went on cold standby. PG&E officially closed the plant in 1995, eleven years after it had effectively stopped using the plant. PG&E didn’t demolish the plant until 2013—28 years after the plant stopped generating!

It gets worse. One person was killed building the plant. One person—so far—has been killed dismantling the plant. One bystander had their leg amputated by shrapnel during demolition of the plant 3 August 2013. And the plant is not yet completely dismantled and the site restored.

I’ll continue to hold the wind industry to a high standard, but we need to keep in perspective that we tolerate environmental and aesthetic abuses by electric utilities and conventional sources of energy that we are not even aware of. This is but one egregious example that happens to be where I live.