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Lighting the Way: Solar Decommissioning Policies Gaining Traction

What happens to solar power plants when they cease operations?


With the United States (US) ramping up the installation of renewable energy sources, a movement toward new policy has begun to emerge – what happens to a solar power plant when it is ready to be retired? Coined “decommissioning,” retiring solar arrays involves the disposal of the panels as well as the remediation of the project site on which they were installed.

The focus on new policies related to decommissioning has brought to light two key questions:

  1. What should the decommissioning process look like?
  2. Who will be responsible for the removal and disposal of spent units?

The way in which both questions are addressed through state and local initiatives could have major implications for developers.

What Is Decommissioning?

According to the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA), decommissioning refers to the process of removing an abandoned solar system and facilitating remediation of the land used for the project. With a typical lifecycle of 20 to 40 years, solar power plants must be deconstructed and disposed of after their useful lifecycle ends. Decommissioning usually involves the following:

  • Removal of wiring, panels, and racking
  • Removal of electrical equipment
  • Breakup and removal of concrete pads and ballasts
  • Removal of ground screws, structural supports, and power poles at or below grade
  • Removal of fencing surrounding the site
  • Grading and reseeding the land
  • Transportation and recycling of the solar panels

Decommissioning requirements and the responsibility can vary drastically depending on project ownership:

  • From a landowner’s perspective: If the landowner is the entity seeking the initial construction permit, the landowner may be required to enter into an agreement outlining the decommissioning plan and process. State and local regulations provide assurances to the landowner that project impacts to their land will be mitigated and the property can be reclaimed at the end of the facility’s lifecycle. Land reclamation assurances have been especially important as this helps to ensure other landowners may be willing to commit to subsequent projects.
  • From a Land Lessee’s perspective: When a facility is located on land that is not owned by the project developer, a decommissioning guaranty or security agreement between the developer and landowner will commonly be required as a part of the permitting process for the facility.

While decommissioning requirements will vary, most decommissioning plans are required to outline the following:

  • A determination of future costs adjusted for present value
  • Bonding, letters of credit, or other financial assurances
  • Land restoration expectations and requirements

A Growing Policy Movement

Currently, there is no set national policy framework for establishing the decommissioning process and who is responsible. This has left much of the policymaking up to state and local governments, creating a disconnect around decommissioning policies that vary widely from state to state and from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

A recent report found that 36 states have either current or pending legislation on decommissioning. Of these states:

  • 20 have legislation that mentions both solar and wind technologies
  • 9 have legislation that mentions only solar technologies
  • 4 have legislation that mentions only wind technologies
  • 3 make no specific mention of solar or wind, have pending legislation, or allow counties to address the topic

State-by-State Analysis

Despite more than half of US states having decommissioning policies, many states are either trying to pass clarifying legislation or have not enacted any formal policies to standardize decommissioning. Moreover, guidelines vary widely from state to state. While some states have expressed clear statutory requirements for decommissioning plans and processes, others leave room for interpretation.

The drop-down menu in the section below will outline requirements for decommissioning in the states where LaBella does business.


State-by-State Analysis

This section outlines requirements for decommissioning in the states where LaBella does business.

New York

As a requirement of being granted a building permit, large solar facilities of 25 MWs or more and “opt-in” facilities between 20-25 MWs in New York are required to include Final Decommissioning and Site Restoration Plan as well as a statement in their compliance filings to the Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES). The statement shall address safety and the removal of hazardous conditions, environmental impacts, aesthetics, salvage and recycling, potential future uses for the site, and the useful life of the facility.

The plan must include funding for decommissioning and site restoration. For facilities located on lands that are not owned by the applicant, a decommissioning and guaranty/security agreement between the applicant and the landowner must be included in the compliance filings. ORES also requires letters of credit or other financial assurance that provide proof that decommissioning can be properly funded. The letters are required within one year of facility operation and updated every fifth year. Additionally, a bill is currently in the New York legislature that aims to make modifications to the decommissioning rules for major renewable energy facilities located on prime agricultural lands.


While Connecticut has established stringent rules for decommissioning wind facilities, the state does not apply the same rules to solar facilities. The state attempted to implement a Connecticut Siting Council (CSC) rule, which would require solar facility permit applicants to post a decommission bond for site restoration via SB 350 in 2018, but the bill failed to pass. As of now, the state does not have any explicit statutes for the decommissioning of solar facilities.


In Pennsylvania, SB 211 was introduced in January 2023, passed through the Senate in March, and was referred to the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee on April 25th, where it remains currently. SB 211 outlines the following requirements:

  • Solar facility agreements executed after the effective date of the bill hold grantees responsible for decommissioning no later than 18 months after the facility has ceased production.
  • The grantee must provide a decommissioning plan with financial assurance.
  • The grantee must update the decommissioning plan on or before the fifth anniversary of the commencement of facility construction and every five years thereafter.

The legislation, if passed, would create a standard policy for all larger scale solar projects being built in Pennsylvania, regardless of whether localities presently require a decommissioning plan or not.


Passed by the Ohio General Assembly in June 2021 and effective as of October 11, 2021, SB 52 enacted new rules pertaining to solar and wind farm decommissioning. Ohio’s new statute requires the following for decommissioning:

  • At least 60 days prior to the commencement of construction, the applicant shall submit a comprehensive decommissioning plan or review and approval by the Ohio Power Siting board (OPSB).
  • The decommissioning plan submitted to the OPSB shall be prepared by a registered engineer and shall include:
    • A list of all parties involved in the decommissioning of the facility.
    • A schedule of decommissioning activities, which shall not extend beyond 12 months from the date the plant ceases operation.
    • An estimate of the full costs of decommissioning, including the disposal of all equipment and the restoration of the land. The statute expressly prohibits costs estimations using the salvage values of the facility equipment.
  • Decommissioning cost estimates must be updated every five years by a registered engineer retained by the applicant.
  • The applicant must post a performance bond to ensure funding is available to cover the decommissioning process. The OPSB shall be the oblige of the bond and the bond shall be updated every five years.


Maryland’s statute simply requires a local jurisdiction to require a decommissioning plan as part of obtaining a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) for major and minor generating projects on an intensely developed area, a limited development area, or a resource conservation area. In addition, jurisdictions that do not currently require a decommissioning plan for major and minor generating are permitted to pass an ordinance to adopt regulations per the statute. Maryland’s statute is rather vague and does not explicitly list the requirements of the decommissioning plan, just that one will be needed to obtain permission from the Maryland PSC to build the facility.


Virginia statute § 45.2-1708 stipulates that all local ordinances must include provisions to establish reasonable decommissioning rules for solar plants. Virginia defines decommissioning as the following:

  • Reasonable restoration of the real property upon which the solar equipment was located
  • Soil stabilization and revegetation of the ground cover disturbed by the former solar generation plant

Virginia statute § 15.2-2241.2 establishes that localities must require project owners, lessees, or developers to enter into a written agreement for decommissioning solar equipment prior to receiving conditional approval of a site plan. The following decommissioning stipulations apply:

  • If the party that enters into such a written agreement defaults on the timeline for decommissioning, the locality has the right to enter the real property without consent of the owner and engage in decommissioning.
  • The landowner, lessee, or developer must provide financial assurance via certified funds, cash escrows, bonds, letters of credit, or parent guarantees based on a professional engineer’s estimate. The statute also defines the costs applicable to the estimate of decommissioning.

North Carolina

North Carolina completed a study in 2021 to guide decommissioning rules and passed HB 130 in the 2023 session, which codified new rules on decommissioning. The new legislation lays out the following rules:

  • The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) will be responsible for promulgating rules in accordance with the law. The bill does not restrict local governments or contracts between landowners and owners of the system from creating rules that are more stringent than the outlined rules.
  • It is the responsibility of the utility-scale project owner to decommission a plant no later than 12 months after the plant ceases production.
  • The plant owner must notify NCDEQ within 30 days of the project ceasing production and outline the steps to be taken for decommissioning.
  • The minimum requirements a plant owner must take for decommissioning are as follows:
    • Disconnecting the solar project from the grid
    • Removal of all equipment, including the collection and shipment of equipment for reuse, recycling, or disposal via hazardous waste or landfills depending on if the solar equipment qualifies as a hazardous waste
    • Restoration of the property as nearly as practical to its condition before the siting of the utility-scale project or an alternative condition as agreed upon by the landowner and project owner
  • Owners will be required to register with NCDEQ, update the registration every five years, and submit a decommissioning plan prepared by a professional engineer licensed in North Carolina to the NCDEQ for approval. The decommissioning plan should include the following:
    • Contact information and general project narrative
    • A narrative description of the procedures and sequence for decommissioning
    • Information on equipment to be salvaged, including estimated value of equipment
    • Information on the restoration process for the property
    • Proposed mechanism to satisfy financial assurance requirements
  • Owners will be required to establish financial assurance that decommissioning costs can be covered in an amount and manner that is compliant and acceptable to the NCDEQ.
  • NCDEQ is permitted to collect fees as a part of the decommission submission to help fund the Utility-Scale Solar Management Fund, which is used to implement the provisions of HB 130.

South Carolina

In 2021, South Carolina’s HB 4100 created a stakeholder group within the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) to work on formulating regulations for the decommissioning and end of life of solar facilities. On June 8, 2023, DHEC submitted a Notice of Proposal Regulation for the new regulations with comments due by July 24, 2023. Public hearings commenced as of September 7th and the Notice of Final Regulation was filed with the State Register on September 8th. The Final regulations will be submitted sometime in January 2024 on the first day of the legislative session.


Tennessee’s state statute § 66-9-207 provides explicit rules for decommissioning plans/agreements but also permits local jurisdictions to implement stricter rules. At a minimum, Tennessee’s statute requires:

  • A decommissioning plan as part of the general solar facilities agreement between a landowner and the grantee for solar facilities greater than 10 megawatts.
  • Solar facilities agreements must contain financial assurances. Acceptable forms of financial assurance include a surety bond, collateral bond, irrevocable letter of credit, parent guaranty, cash, cashier’s check, certificate of deposit, or bank joint custody receipt,
  • Solar facilities agreements must contain financial assurances of:
    • No less than 5% of the decommissioning cost on the date the solar power facility commences commercial operation
    • No less than 50% of the decommissioning cost on the 10th anniversary of the date the solar power facility commenced operation
    • No less than 100% of the decommissioning cost on the 15th anniversary of the date the solar power facility commenced operation
  • Decommissioning costs involve the estimated cost for the removal of all equipment and the restoration of land, less the estimated salvage value of the equipment.


While Oregon currently has very few rules on the decommissioning of solar plants, the state has been working to rectify this by enrolling HB 3179 during the 2023 session. The bill redefines “renewable energy facilities” for the purposes of requiring decommissioning plans during the permitting process to be defined as:

  • 35 megawatts but less than 50 megawatts if the power is produced from geothermal or wind energy at a single plant or within a single energy generation area, using:
    • More than 100 acres but not more than 240 acres located on high-value farmland
    • More than 100 acres but not more than 2,560 acres located on land that is predominantly cultivated or that, if not cultivated, is predominantly composed of soils that are in capability classes I to IV, as specified by the National Cooperative Soil Survey
    • More than 320 acres but not more than 3,840 acres located on any other land

Facilities must provide a decommissioning plan to accomplish site restoration and provide a bond/security as financial assurances provided the plant meets the following locational requirements:

  • Using more than 160 acres but not more than 240 acres located on high-value farmland
  • Using more than 1,280 acres but not more than 2,560 acres located on land that is predominantly cultivated or that, if not cultivated, is predominantly composed of soils that are in capability classes I to IV, as specified by the National Cooperative Soil Survey
  • Using more than 1,920 acres but not more than 3,840 acres located on any other land

Why Is This Significant?

Decommissioning requirements directly impact project development costs, including gaining the necessary financial assurances, and the time and labor involved in developing the decommissioning plan agreements between the developer, landowner, and/or the local jurisdiction. Moreover, some states require decommissioning plans to be updated frequently, adding to administrative and operations costs. Decommissioning requirements can also directly impact total project expenditures and the regulatory hurdles a project must jump through to be constructed. Therefore, it is critically important to be aware of the decommissioning requirements at the state and local level.

With the growing decommissioning policy movement due to the influx of new renewable energy installations, concerns around the decommissioning planning aspects of a project are growing, particularly with communities leery of the potential impacts from renewable energy systems in their community. Future project planning should strive to go beyond the minimum requirements to provide additional assurance to landowners, their neighbors, and the community that renewable energy projects will be disposed of in a strategic, coordinated, and responsible manner. Doing so will gain the trust of the local community and its officials, ultimately aiding a more expedited, less contentious project development process.

About the Author
Daniel Rafferty
Government Affairs and Community Relations Intern

As an intern in LaBella’s Government Affairs and Community Relations department, Daniel is active in a variety of policy research efforts related to climate action, renewable energy, and local planning. He is a second-year Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) student at Virginia Commonwealth University and has aided several academic studies and research efforts on climate action and renewable energy policy. Specializing in equitable climate action planning, Daniel has been highly involved in research efforts to study and expand efforts to provide more equitable access to solar energy. He also brings experience from state and local governments through previous internships with Virginia’s General Assembly and the City of Richmond Office of Sustainability, where he assisted the Office’s planning efforts in developing the City’s RVAgreen 2050 climate action plan. Daniel is based in the Richmond, Virginia area.