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Best Practices at the End of the Photovoltaic System Performance Period

Responsible and cost-effective dissolution of photovoltaic (PV) system hardware at the end of the performance period has emerged as an important business and environmental consideration. Alternatives include extending the performance period and existing contracts for power purchase, lease, and utility interconnect; refurbishing the plant by correcting any deficiencies; repowering the plant with new PV modules and inverters; or decommissioning the plant and removing all the hardware from the site. Often key decisions are made very early in the project development and might require decommissioning by some certain date after the end of a power purchase agreement. To “abandon in place” is not an alternative acceptable to landowners and regulators, so any financial prospectus should include costs associated with decommissioning, even if those costs are deferred by extending operations, refurbishment, or repowering. Decommissioning costs are driven by regulations regarding the handling and disposal of waste, with reuse and recycling of PV modules and other components preferred as a way to reduce both costs and environmental impact. Each alternative is discussed with order-of-magnitude costs, and recommendations are provided considering site-specific details of that situation, such as estimated costs to refurbish or repower, projected revenue from continued operations, and tax considerations. Decisions affecting alternatives at the end of the performance period for a PV plant are often limited by local regulations regarding permitting and land-use planning and state or federal regulations regarding handling and disposal of waste. Decisions regarding the final disposition of a system are often made much earlier—in the development of contracts, permits, and agreements regarding construction of the plant in the first place. Because a main driver of the PV market is concern about environmental sustainability, everyone in the PV industry—from PV module manufacturers, to project developers, to project owners and financiers, to designers and specifiers, to O&M providers—needs to ensure that liabilities such as hazardous materials are avoided and that the provisions made at the end of the performance period extract the most economic value and entail the least environmental impact as possible—or at least comply with all environmental regulations. In many cases, the site control, utility interconnection, and civil improvements such as access roads and stormwater drainage will have a high value and could justify repowering with new PV modules and inverters.