Most industries produce waste in one form or another, directly or indirectly. At NextEra Energy, we believe minimizing our waste footprint presents an opportunity to deliver outstanding value for our environment, customers, communities, employees and shareholders. We produce a variety of waste streams, including:
- Construction waste streams resulting from demolition or development.
- Hazardous and non-hazardous waste generated from operations.
- Various recyclable wastes from office buildings.
- Used nuclear fuel produced from reliable, emissions-free nuclear fleet operations.
All of these waste streams are managed in accordance with local, state and federal regulations.
At FPL, a variety of waste streams generated at power plants and operating centers are sent to the company's waste consolidation facility to be sorted. This operation is designed to look for opportunities to reduce, reuse and recycle materials so that we minimize the waste that we must send to local landfills.
We believe that the best way to deliver value by minimizing our waste footprint begins with reducing the amount of waste we generate in the first place. That's why we've:
- Modernized many of our facilities to reduce the amount of oil-ash generated.
- Banned the use of chlorinated solvents at our facilities.
- Established a program to replace substation and switchyard oil-filled breakers with gas-insulated equipment.
- Continued to phase out polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) equipment from the company's system -- currently, only eight known PCB transformers remain in our operations with plans to remove them during future plant maintenance.
We also have greatly reduced the amount of hazardous waste we generate. For example, at FPL, with the exception of the company's waste consolidation facility, each of our more than 80 operating facilities generate less than half the volume of a 55-gallon drum of hazardous waste every month.
NextEra Energy endeavors to limit the generation of hazardous waste to maintain the lowest possible generator federal regulatory classification status of a Very Small Quantity Generator. NextEra Energy provides documented training to employees to ensure that hazardous waste when generated is properly identified, stored and disposed or recycled. All aspects of the waste management are validated through facility environmental audits that include records review, site inspection and personnel interviews. In addition, all waste management vendors receive an environmental audit from either internal audit personnel or through the nonprofit trade association CHWMEG and its global Facility Review Program. Active engagement with industry groups, like Cross-Cutting Issues Group and EPRI, also helps insure understanding of evolving standards and compliance obligations.
Reuse and Recycle
We are committed to reducing our waste footprint across our fleet and actively seek opportunities to identify and implement reuse and recycling programs that result in environmental, social, and economic benefits. In 2020, our Corporate Recycling and Services (CRS) facility reconditioned and redirected nearly $5 million worth of hardware back into inventory, which helped to reduce the waste stream.
In addition, our investment recovery team, which oversees the release of surplus and dormant material and encourages redeployment to other plants for extended use where possible, engages a seven-step process for asset disposition when they reach the end-of-use stage: reuse, recondition, return, resell, reclaim, recycle and remove. A few of our reuse and recycling accomplishments for 2020 are below.
One of the benefits of wind energy is that it creates no waste byproducts for solid waste disposal and results in no hazardous cleanup at the end of a project’s productive life. Additionally, solar photovoltaic panels typically consist of glass, polymer, aluminum, copper and semiconductor materials that can be recovered and recycled at the end of their useful life.
Additionally, NextEra Energy has proactively worked with solar vendors on plans to first reuse solar infrastructure components when a site is decommissioned and, in the event they cannot be reused, they are recycled following outlined requirements. NextEra Energy has employed the same collaboration with wind vendors for waste management as it decommissions or repowers wind sites. Wind vendors have made significant strides in recycling as recently demonstrated by GE Renewable Energy’s announcement that it has contracted with Veolia North America to recycle blades removed from its U.S.-based turbines
during upgrades or repowering. The recycled blades are used as a raw material for cement. Since the program began in October 2020, 915 blades have been recycled from five NextEra Energy projects and an addition 393 blades removed in 2020 will be recycled in 2021.
Used Nuclear Fuel
We're complying with all federal and state regulations to ensure that our used nuclear fuel is stored safely.
Used nuclear fuel, also referred to as spent fuel rods, is a byproduct of power generation at every nuclear power plant in the world, including NextEra Energy's four nuclear power plants. Spent uranium fuel rods comprise the majority of high-level waste, while low-level waste is generally considered to be any material that enters the containment area, including contaminated protective shoe covers and clothing, wiping rags, mops, filters, reactor water treatment residues, equipment and tools.
Currently, spent fuel is safely contained in spent fuel pools at nuclear power plant sites and then transferred to onsite dry storage systems -- a safe, secure, and well-proven technology that has been used for more than 20 years at more than 55 nuclear plant locations in the U.S. Dry storage facilities are heavily secured through a variety of proven measures, including high-tech security and surveillance systems, radiation monitoring, regular security patrols, as well as multiple levels of physical barriers. Dry storage has proven to be both secure and environmentally sound. The facilities are specifically designed and tested to provide protection from extreme natural events such as high winds and flooding associated with hurricanes, storm surges, heavy rain events, tornadoes, fires and earthquakes.
Low-level radioactive waste can be safely removed and disposed of offsite at two facilities within the U.S. NextEra Energy complies with all federal and state regulations to ensure that this waste is disposed safely.
Site Remediation and Restoration
When we build or acquire facilities, we identify and mitigate any issues regarding ground contamination or degradation.
Companies like ours that have been operating for many years or have acquired sites from other companies have a responsibility to comply with all laws and regulations concerning petroleum and chemical contamination and to prevent future occurrences. At NextEra Energy, we're committed to addressing these issues, so that our soil and groundwater are not degraded. Site remediation activities are conducted in compliance with all local, state and federal requirements. Remedial activities range from removing underground storage tanks to decommissioning assets as part of our efforts to modernize our power generation fleet. While remediation is often driven by regulation, we also look for opportunities to implement best practices that go beyond regulatory requirements.
In 2016, FPL instituted a soil recycling program. Excess soils are generated when facilities like electrical substations are newly constructed or expanded. In the past, the soils were generally sent to landfills with any contaminated soils that were removed. Now FPL tests the excess soils to identify clean soils that can be used where fill material is needed for other company projects. In 2020, the company reused nearly 29,500 tons of clean soil, saving more than $1,950,000 by reusing this valuable material in place of purchasing newly mined fill.
During the decommissioning of our older power generation fleet, we recycle materials whenever possible. For example, 4,300 tons of steel have been recovered and recycled from the older equipment at the Martin Plant.