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A Climate Change with Matt Matern
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133: Saxon Metzger, Solar Project Development Manager of NuLife Power Services

Guest Name(s): Saxon Metzger

Join Matt with Saxon Metzger, Solar Project Development Manager of NuLife Power Services. He is passionate about solar sustainability on top of being a Professor of sustainable business.

NuLife Power Services >>

Eight Generation Consulting >>

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Our mission is to bring “nulife” to our nation’s existing solar energy infrastructure by developing the next generation of solar professionals. Our team of experts has developed an effective and low-cost process for decommissioning and repowering of commercial & industrial (C&I) solar systems. We take pride in being the industry’s trusted service provider for the Top Fortune 500 Green Power Partners in the United States…
I started Eighth Generation Consulting as little outfit called Saxon’s Computer Tutoring in early 2011, pairing my passion for service with a solutions oriented perspective on networks, hardware, software, and web development for residential and commercial clients. I had spent years volunteering at my local library teaching teaching computer literacy, and as a parting gift before I left for college, I was given a used Dell Inspiron laptop with the instruction that I use it to keep making the world a bit of a better place…
133: Saxon Metzger, Founder of Eighth Generation Consulting

You’re listening to A Climate Change this is Matt Matern, your host. I’ve got a great guest coming on the program – Saxon Metzger. Saxon’s with NuLife. And what they do is end-of-life decommissioning of solar panels. So, without further ado, Saxon, welcome to the program.

Yeah, thanks so much for having me really appreciate it.

So tell us a little bit about what you do at NuLife and what the company is up to?

Yeah, definitely. So I’m the solar project development manager for NuLife power services. And what we do is handle the end of life for solar projects. So there’s quite a few people who have been installing for quite some time, there’s definitely a lot of folks who are handling some of the service issues that comes with it like any technology, you got to maintain it to make sure it works as well as it’s supposed to when you put it in the first place. But then there’s the question of what happens when, like, every technology doesn’t work as good as it used to, or it stops working totally.

And so what we do is the actual labor side, and we have the kind of intellectual understanding of what is possible with each element of the solar system. So you know, a solar system has quite a few different components. And each of them has a very particular thing that you can do with it at different stages with different brands and different products. And so, because the market is just so expansive, with so many options, and so many opportunities, it hasn’t been something that people have really specialized in and really focused on, it’s so much easier, not that it’s simple in any way, shape, or form not to, you know, slander our other solar folks here in the field, we love and respect them.

But it’s pretty hard to just figure out what to do. And a lot of times what we’re doing is cutting edge, we’re handling some of the first time these kinds of brands, these kinds of systems in this particular jurisdiction, have ever really had that consideration of, it’s not working so great anymore. Now, what do we do with it?

Well, that is, that’s great that you guys are doing it, because obviously, we’re rolling out tons of new solar projects. And as you said, they’re not going to last forever. So how do we deal with that potential waste? Or turn it into something that’s useful? Or I guess, option three is how do we keep it going. So you don’t have to decommission it? Are you involved at all in kind of keeping it running a bit longer, so it so doesn’t have to be scrapped? Definitely.

And I think that’s one of the things that I’m really the most excited about, that we get to do as a company is show up on sites and give people the good, the bad, and the ugly, we get to say, here’s all the options that you have. That is possible, because it’s really sensitive equipment. And so a solar system really has a few main critical components, you have the solar panels, obviously, you have the racking that it sits on, there’s some element of attachments and ballasts and things like that to keep it attached to the roof or held down.

And then you have the inverters, which is the kind of more sensitive electronic components that make sure that the electricity being generated by those panels is usable. And then you have a whole bunch of wire, conduit and other electrical components as well. And so each one of those has its own special consideration. And when we show up to a site, most of the time, the panels themselves have been in really designed to be in the elements, they’re designed to have really withstood the test of time. And so some of the other more sensitive components, especially things that require a little bit more sensitivity to how they were installed, might not be functioning in line with the lifespan of those panels.

So when we show up on a site, sometimes what we’re able to do is what we call remediation, or repowering, where we can take older inverters that are no longer functioning or functioning very efficiently and change them out, replace them out with new inverters that have more efficiency that are you know, have brand new warranties that have kind of better technology for fire protection, or were able to address some of the connector issues on the wiring it and say, well, actually, this has only been off because some of the conduit has just been clipped or there’s a fire issue that has happened that has caused this not function as well.

Or we’ll have a section of that racking or the panels that have failed due to let’s say, hail, extensive wind, something that wasn’t necessarily installed correctly that has lowered the lifespan or there’s manufacturing defects. So our first goal is to offer that what you have, let’s minimally touch it. Let’s repair it so you get to have the same system. Keep it going.

Tell us about a bit about a what an inverter is for Those of us who are not solar geeks who may not know everything about a solar system, I feel like that’s one of the values of the program is kind of to dive into these issues and and educate people as to at a more expert level. So please go ahead. Yeah.

So what an inverter does is it takes the electricity that the solar panel generates, and that it would the, the rays from the sun basically are hitting that panel, they’re exciting the cells, they’re generating that electricity, but it’s not usable by the grid directly, it has to be converted by and large, to be able to be used by your household appliances by the grid. And so what the inverter does is it inverts the electricity from DC to AC, and then that allows there to be a very clear connection between the solar system.

And then you can also tell that that would make that part a very critical component, if anything goes wrong there, you’re going to have this huge disconnect, where beautiful, amazing, effective panels are not actually in any way shape or form useful, because they’re not able to get through and actually be sending electricity to your building, and then ultimately to the grid.

Okay, so tell us how, how did you come upon working in this field and kind of what’s your personal journey to, to work in the solar field in particular, and this was,

I was born and raised in Southern, you know, Southern California. And so for me, I always had a sense of, you know, environmental care and consideration, there’s so much in our school system that I think really helped be able to understand that, you know, if I throw something away, it’s going to end up in the ocean. And that’s the place that I play that I go, and I see, you know, we’re really seeing the turtles, right, there’s something that’s very directly connected.

And so I always had, in my mind, why wreck the environment for no reason. You know, and if you’re wrecking the environment, there’s the reasons probably pretty challenging to come up with. But a lot of my background also came with that consideration. And of I was a numbers guy, I was an I was a numbers nerd. And so my undergraduate was in economics. And I ultimately got my MBA with an emphasis in sustainability, trying to marry economic and environmental sustainability together.

Because waste is something that affects the economics of the world as well, if you have to throw something away, you have to buy another thing. Everyone who’s ever managed, the budget knows, that’s not an effective use of our resources either. And so when you marry those things, you combine those things, you have to find some way to be able to do that justify that for people.

And so I got into solar as a way of really a perfect proof, why not utilize the sun, which is producing all of this energy all the time, to be able to power our world without having to go through all the other processes. So it was a perfect blend for me of that economic and environmental sustainability.

So how does NuLife fight climate change?

Well, the main thing that we’re able to do is take panels that would otherwise potentially just be thrown into a landfill, and do something with them. So our goal is to reduce waste by you know, offering that remediation repowering first, so let’s, let’s basically fix the car, if you had to throw away your car, every time you got a flat tire, it’d be really expensive end up contributing a lot to the you know, our landfill issue, and it’s continuing to grow.

So what we’re trying to do you know, the next step, let’s say, we can’t really repower, there’s some real fundamental issues or things that are broken that really need to have something done with it, what we could do at that point is make sure that it’s being recycled appropriately. And recycling now as an industry is really able to handle quite a bit of the waste that solar is is generating, to actually take those and break it down.

Break those panels down into very usable material, you have the frame, which is made of metal, you have your glass that can be typically recycled as well. And then you have some other rare earth metals and other components that can be harvested as well.

So what are some of the biggest gaps that NuLife is finding kind of in the solar world? And, you know, how is NuLife kind of bridging those gaps?

Well, I think one of the main issues that we’re noticing is that people when they have solar installed, you know, sometimes it’s, um, folks, there’s not a lot of questions being asked what happens over the life of the system and towards the end of the life of this system? What do we do about it? And what’s that going to look like? And there’s not really been a lot of clarity in the industry, because we haven’t always had the tools and the resources.

And so what we’re trying to do is bridge the gap. We’re getting more information out there. So our website has a free end of life calculator where you can plug in the details of your project and see how much it will actually cost remove. I’m trying to do things like this going in educating People, and I’m also a professor of sustainable business. And I utilize this teaching my grad students quite a bit for as an example of an industry that is learning how to become even more sustainable than originally was.

So what makes your company unique among solar companies?

I would say that, you know, there’s really awesome people joining in and doing similar work to what we’re doing. But I think that we were a real pioneer when it came down to trying to learn about the nuances of what’s going on. And also, in particular workforce development, we have a lot of our crew in house.

So we have basically the capacity to have trained folks who’ve had the experience working on these kinds of racking panels material in different jurisdictions, we have folks who have that real expertise that they can offer from site to site, because it’s not just installation in reverse.

There’s all these other consequences factors and considerations when you’re removing it that if you don’t have trained, educated folks in construction management, in OSHA safety practices, you’re really thrown a lot of risks out there from just trying to copy and paste other skills.

So what are what are the options for solar when it’s nearing the end of its life cycle? What, what do you say there?

Well, the great news is there’s usually several options, the repowering. And remediation is the first simple one, I think it’s something where we have, you know, a real challenge sometimes in you know, being able to work that all the time. Because sometimes things are too far gone. Or you’ll have some of these panels and systems that have been around for 25 years generating electricity, it’s just time that those things are replaced, because they’re smaller than some of the smallest systems we’re installing now.

So after that, the next kind of option in terms of you know, the best case scenario is resale of products. So we’re able to take solar panels and racking that has actual usable, reusable value, and either resell them, or we can utilize them ourselves and work on other projects. So a lot of systems utilize the same kinds of panels for a period of time. And you’ll find companion systems for entire portfolios of projects that were built in a similar period.

So if one system has kind of this pause of what we’re able to do, then we can take that and move it to another area, plug and play over a net, and that other system that might have had broken panels or damaged and so we can kind of extend the life of that repower other systems even if we have to decommission that. And then the last item would be the recycling.

So how can we make sure that we’re doing a hazardous waste disposal or just waste disposal in a way that is most effectively utilizing the resources that went into those panels to begin with?

You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern, and I’ve got Saxon Metzger, who works at NuLife. And we’ll be back in just one minute to talk to Saxon about, you know, this process of decommissioning solar and also extending its life useful life. So stay tuned.

You’re listening to A Climate Change? This is Matt Matern. I’ve got Saxon Metzger of NuLife. And Saxon, tell us about what your role is exactly with NuLife? And how long have you been with the company?

Yeah, so I’ve been with NuLife for a little about a year now. And what I do is kind of a split between directing our operations and managing the, you know, project development side of things. So my official title is solar project development manager. And my real main purpose with the company is to work directly with our president Cesar Barbosa, not only in terms of creating, and, you know, finding the clients that need our services, working on the different budgets for the different options that we have.

And then when we actually have projects that we’ve signed, then to be able to go through the next steps of actually making sure that we have all the resources, the equipment, the tools, the labor, the permitting, all of the weekly reporting necessary to get that done effectively, then I manage and moderate that project over the course of its life, and make sure that we complete on time under budget, your typical project management tasks.

Okay. And in terms of your background before this, where had you worked and what kinds of things had you done?

Yeah, so I started off as a when I was younger, I worked on doing my own kind of technical consulting, I did quite a bit of outreach to small businesses and folks teaching people how to use the technology that they had at their disposal. And so that was something that was really important to me was Learning how to teach learning how to help people with cutting edge solutions to you know, cutting edge problems, because for every new solution we have, it seems like we have more problems in the world as well that come with them.

And so I started really translating that into some work I did as the head of a sustainability commissioned the Vice Chair for the city of Carbondale in Southern Illinois, where we put together a sustainability plan, utilizing pretty expansive scopes of you know, baseline emissions, as well as recommendations for the city. And I got really involved in excited in the permitting aspect of solar and substation development in the region as well with Amarin, which was a local utility. And so through that I got very involved in a solo group by effort in the Midwest. Group bys are kind of a way that areas that don’t have a lot of solar can combine nonprofit and for profit, education and outreach.

And so the educational part of it is helping people understand the basics of renewable energy and ways to get involved in their area, because they don’t have the benefit of seeing systems in their area, maybe, that aren’t as common. So California has had solar for so long, you can talk to seventeen different neighbors in your block. And all of them will give you maybe the good, the bad and the ugly, but it’ll all be helpful and educational, that wasn’t always available in the Midwest.

And so kind of continuing that educational background for me was really important is that I got into project development with a local local project development agency that did solar on the residential and commercial basis, straight up solar, they did a fantastic job in the Midwest area, and Illinois and Missouri, really ethical, they were a B Corp, and really focused on kind of doing solar the right way. And then from there, I got involved not only with NuLife, but also teaching. I teach classes on my alma mater, Wilmington University and sustainable business at the graduate level.

That’s cool. I think giving back to the next generation of leaders is a great way to have any career path. Yeah, it’s funny, as you were talking, I was just thinking about my grandmother used to sell kind of power. In Central Illinois, I think it was Illinois power was either the company she worked for the competition, one of the two. And now I’m kind of chuckling to myself inside about a little lady in her 70s running around Central Illinois selling power. And you know, she lived a little bit longer, she would have been selling solar power, I guess.

But definitely, she just, so, you know, we’ve come a long way since since that was in the early 70s, when solar, you know, just was beginning. There were certainly solar systems out there, Jimmy Carter put solar on the roof of the White House, which then Reagan took off the White House, as soon as he came into power, bit of a mistake on behalf of the country that we would have been well served to have continued to go in that direction.

Tell us a little bit about where we’re at now and in our solar journey. You know, I know that people are installing a lot of solar, but we’re having some problems in the supply chain of getting enough solar for these massive installations that are going up. Are you seeing some of that out there?

Well, I think that really the the main shortage right now that we’re seeing is certainly on the electrical components for how to get the solar system connected to your roof, what they call the AC components. So your panel boards, the big giant things that have the breakers and all that, that go into commercial installations, you’re seeing hugely times of really killing projects, really making it really hard for folks to kind of pencil out, keeping their staff on and how do you manage to, you know, D, mobilize and re mobilize project, you’ll have the panels and the racking, and all that stuff.

And we’re seeing a ton of that shift, you know, in terms of move domestically to the United States. And I think, you know, that has been progress that we’ve really been making, you know, since the passage of the IRA, but but even before that was kind of a move, you know, I think through COVID, as well, there were just so many supply shocks from international production, that I think domestic production is really shifting to become more commonplace. But but we’re really seeing that I see as a major issue is workforce development is something that our industry has just not been able to keep up with.

We are just lacking so many of these skilled trades, folks that really get to have stable careers. We’ve had a lot of people go to college that’s been really helpful in a lot of ways to have a educated workforce. But at the same time, we haven’t done some of the same investment in the trades to really, you know, until recently, and we need hundreds of 1000s more electric machines to be able to build, install, maintain repair, these kinds of projects that we’re building right now.

And so that’s one of the things that NuLife is really actively trying to do is develop an in house workforce that has your OSHA 10 and OSHA 30s, that has your, you know, ISO training for managing your systems and managing environmental relationships, having the heavy training for forklifts and reaches and putting people through and connecting people with trade schools to get their own licenses to be able to really be professionals who can then go on and manage crews, we have an in house kind of strategy of not just the actual technical skills, but also leadership training.

So we put people through kind of the steps of sending through, you know, you know, reading the books, write the law, reading the kind of programs, attending the conferences, to take folks who might have been working on, you know, in warehouses, and, you know, in agriculture, really in the Central California area, and giving them an opportunity to make significantly more money in really skilled trades.

And I think that that is a model that we need to be seeing a lot more of as an industry is a lot of people can sit behind a computer. And you know, if we have too many folks sitting behind the computer and selling solar, at some point, we need to find out who’s going to be building those projects after a year.

Well, I guess that, you know, goes to the question of immigration levels, and that maybe we need to increase our levels of immigration to fill these positions. If If Americans are not stepping up and taking these jobs, because our economy is going to suffer to the extent that we don’t have these hundreds of 1000s of new electricians.

And if if young people are not willing to go into these areas, though, I do think we should make a better effort to encouraging our citizens and people who live here to do these jobs, what do you think could be done to to increase that level of people engaging in these trades?

Well, I think that what we need to see as an industry, there’s there’s a couple of things as an industry, we need to do just in terms of creating better incentives. People have to make money to be able to survive, feed their families, and people need benefits. People need health care, people need educational benefits. And so some of that stuff is available in more white collar professions.

But when you look at the trades, you need those same incentives, if not more, for people to feel justify getting up on a roof. You know, it’s dangerous work, it’s a lot more dangerous than, you know, other aspects of this kind of, you know, industry at times and we really need those kinds of incentives from the industry.

And then on the same time from our government, I think that further efforts to really incentivize and lower costs of tuition and ease of access for not only you know, international immigration, but also work permits in terms of, you know, educational attainment, ability to access trade, schools, things like that.

Well, you’re listening to A Climate Change, I’ve got Saxon Metzger of NuLife. And we’re talking about how we can roll out more solar and we need more workers. So stay tuned. We’ll be right back in just one minute.

You’re listening to A Climate Change, this is Matt Matern. And I’ve got Saxon Metzger, who is with NuLife, a company that does end of life decommissioning of solar systems.

Tell us a little bit Saxon about supply chain issues and, and how recycling these panels can can make a difference and reduce supply chain bottlenecks?

Definitely, well, one of the main kind of things that we’re dealing with as an industry is we have to mined a lot and we have to manufacture a lot to be able to get our panels made. And even though the footprint the the carbon footprint of the solar industry is infinite, abysmal, comparative to many other forms of energy production and the decommissioning aspect, even if we were tossed every single solar panel in a landfill for the next 30 years. It basically compares to about two months or so of the landfill usage from coal ash.

So even though the solar industry is significantly more green, we do have to face the fact that strip mining for rare earth metals is in particular in areas without much environmental regulation or on indigenous reservations here in the United States is caused massive issues and so between, you know, battery production, solar production, that’s something we’re grappling with. And while we maintain that ethical relationship and improve those things prove the way that we mined improve where we mined and help that process.

One of the things that’s a no brainer is 98% or so of a solar panel is recyclable. For most brands, and most types of panels, if you can take that a lot of our research has been showing that about 40% of our ongoing domestic needs for solar panels could be met solely through the use of recycled material from decommission solar panels. So taking our old legacy systems, putting them back to use in new basically panels that are there even more efficient than when they were taken off, to me is a no brainer.

It’s the example of why economics is kind of this perfect, you know, formula for understanding environmental issues even because, you know, why not take, you know, a broken down car, put it into three new cars and have them running better than they were in the first one.

Why are we not? Or are we using these recycled panels to meet 40% of our needs, if it could be done, where we add on the 40% curve, or we had 2%? Or we 39%?

We’re low, we’re definitely low. And one of the reasons why is the technology to separate panels has been relatively in its infancy and hasn’t really kicked off. A lot of people who are, you know, recycling panels, were actually more storing panels and developing the technology. These are huge machines that require several different types, you could either slash them up into little wafers and process each individually, some will actually take a solar panel that’s like this and cut it horizontally and kind of take off the top sheet or the glass, and then handle it from there take off the frame.

But a lot of that is in its infancy, because most folks have not been worrying about decommissioning we talked about the solar industry is really in its it’s, you know, I would say at this point more adolescence, or maybe teenage years, you’re starting to see the FITS and spurts right with some folks kind of going through the financial issues and other things as an industry. Because we’re we don’t have the luxury of 203 100 years, the coal industry in Kentucky has been around for, you know, the mid 1700s, prior to the birth of the United States.

So that’s an industry that is incredibly well established that, for better or worse has developed a supply chain and its understanding of the market very, you know, very significantly. And so solar as an industry now is if these panels were 25 years down the road being totally functional, because they were really great technology. That means that you didn’t have the scale and the volume to really justify private enterprises making money investing on it. So with both government intervention, now we’re seeing some grants that are being put forward, we’re actually part of a few of them at NuLife.

I’ve worked on some of them privately as well, to try and help kind of our understanding of the industry and what we could do to promote circularity, we’re also seeing that the recyclers are getting in on it, these main names that are really the industry leaders for recycling, your refrigerators, your mattresses, I mean, really all of it, all of that kind of, you know, those major recyclers are now starting to get in on it, the technology now exists, we’re able to actually get those panels recycled.

And now the question is, now that we understand how to take them apart into their component resources, we’re starting to also now figure it out, how can you economically with scale, and really in a way that is cost competitive to newer panels? How can you take that material and then reuse it in a way that is still from an engineering standpoint, safe because you don’t want to reuse material in electrical production, massive commercial production at that in a way that isn’t safe?

So there’s there’s been limitations and the industry hasn’t reached that scale where, you know, we have 5000 panels at everyone’s door, and we’re wondering what to do.

Well, the next question is related to circularity and something that you raise, which I think should be a big focus of our government, as well as us as individuals is promoting circularity in our economy has the IRA or other governmental acts that you’re aware of promoted circularity and to promote and actually incentivize recycling of goods so that we don’t have to make as much and therefore not waste as much and put, you know, things into landfills and dump them and the like?

Absolutely. I would say that the IRA has been one of the most effective and I think we’ll go down in history is one of the more impactful pieces of legislation Has in US history. And I think that that is something that to me is I feel very confident about the level of research and education I’ve done, at least specifically with its impact to our relationship to climate change the environment and the solar industry as a whole.

It has led to a massive investment in domestic supply chains production research, and you’re seeing real leadership, I think, from the United States that we haven’t really had in in a long time when it comes down to some of these trades. I think that you have this real capacity for major financial interests to be involved. You have this capacity for recyclers to feel confident that there’s this ongoing investment. I think solar has been one of those things, where is it going to stay is it going to go has always kind of been in the back of people’s minds.

The layperson doesn’t necessarily always understand the nuances. And even though the economics have been clear about where the industry is going, and the fact that we it’s, it’s sticking around, and this is the future, you really need to see, I think that backing from not just the financial aspect of it, which is important, but also the focus on improving our relationship to research technology, we have some of the most incredible world class institutions.

Columbia University is one of them that we’re working with on potential grants right now that really have this significant focus now on helping the solar industry become even more sustainable than it originally was expected to be.

Well, in particular, circularity and is there any legislation that promotes circularity, meaning recycling, a product’s recycling of solar? Is there any legislation or, or, or non governmental actions that are being taken that are promoting circularity on a state level?

We’re seeing quite a few were involved with the California Solar and Storage Association, which is very much involved in putting together recommendations for the state of California to change its relationship and guidance on how to sustainably and safely recycle solar panels.

So that I think is becoming more of a standard where state by state, you’re also seeing more passage of decommissioning bonds. So that is the financial commitment at the beginning of a project that is paid out by the individuals responsible for the project, who then are also financially committed to the decommissioning and the removal of that system to return it to its original state.

And so by those decommissioning funds being in place and the regulations accordingly, and the recycling rules put in place, and accordingly, what you’re going to have is less of that, oh, no. What do we do now, kind of surprise moment, that happens at the end that is not budgeted for people don’t have the clarity on.

And in those situations, I think the reality is, unfortunately, the easy solution is going to win out. So can you just sneak these into a landfill while no one’s looking? We think that the solar industry can’t survive too many photos of us, you know, going through and you know, bulldozing massive fields of solar, and you know, calling it a day, that’s something that I don’t think our industry can be, you know, survive, and nor should it even attempt to do.

But I think that we’ve had conversations with even, you know, large scale, people who are really important players in the utility space on the side of the actual utilities themselves, who that’s kind of in the back of their mind of if nothing happens, we might just do that. And so I think on a state by state basis, you’re really seeing this movement towards those decommissioning bonds that are more accurately priced. You’re seeing that encouragement from, you know, the states on how to recycle and what to do with hazardous waste and waste designations.

And then you’re also seeing this agreement by an as the industry of, we can’t do that, y’all we have to figure out how we as an industry are going to move forward. And and that’s why you’re seeing these recycling partnerships and the resale partnerships. There’s several online databases and marketplaces now where you can go and post the panels that you’ve removed from a roof. And everyone who’s connected on that platform can then say,

Oh, I actually need ten of those to help me fix my old site. Let me grab those, reuse those and help promote my system lasting longer. Let’s not just throw it away because it’s, you know, broken, let’s fix it.

Well, that’s a great idea in thirty seconds. Can you tell us what a decommissioning bond is?

It is the financial allocation to ensure that at the end of a project, you’re able to return it to the original state, the land or the building. And that involves removing it, handling it, receding it, regressing it for instance, and you pay for it upfront.

Okay, well, you’re listening to A Climate Change, this is Matt Matern. And I’ve got Saxon Metzger, of NuLife on the program and we’re talking about solar. And you know, end of life and extending it as well as taking care of it in a environmentally safe and sustainable way. Stay tuned, we’ll be right back.

You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern. And I’ve got Saxon Metzger of NuLife, who is focused on decommissioning, solar.

And Saxion, I want to talk to you about the what is driving the end of life decisions and costs related to solar projects? And what does that look like? And it kind of relates to your last answer about the decommissioning bonds? I, it to me, it doesn’t make any sense why somebody would return a solar site to like, you know, just putting grass or whatever on it.

Because it’s so difficult to find good solar sites these days, it seems like it would just make sense to re permit or keep the permit going so that you could put just new solar cells or recommission or rework them so that you wouldn’t lose that site?

Definitely. Well, and I think that that is kind of the underlying logic that has really been with the industry. And it’s totally true. If you have a perfect area, whether it’s a building or you know, a large field, it always makes sense to for the most part, why wouldn’t you just put more solar there in the first place, because you’re just going to be putting a more technologically advanced, you’re, you’re talking about panels that are four or five, six times as productive as they were, you know, 15 years ago, 20 years ago.

So why not just do it again, and and what ends up happening is, if you don’t plan on the decommissioning, then what happens if you can’t just put new solar and so we’ve experienced issues where a building after just five years of having a solar system was needed to be demolished it you know, it’s a large scale projects that the owner just didn’t have an interest in retaining the use of that building.

And financially it penciled out, for them to just demolish the entire structure, if they didn’t have a decommissioning bond, it wouldn’t have the capacity to pay for the removal of those components in those systems. And then at the same, you know, kind of time, if you are able to return it, and it does make sense, the decommissioning bond just provides the investment for the renewed kind of you buy out functionally, that that value there and can be applied to the next, you know, solar project or solar asset.

Because you’re right, if you can even keep some of the existing infrastructure, like the connection, that happens, or maybe some of the same wiring or transmission lines, there’s no reason to, to do anything else. But But part of the major costs that you’re seeing, you know, on a, on the flip side of it is, is really labor, you know, for this, and a lot of folks sometimes think, oh, you know, I, as soon as the solar is not working, like super, super great, I’ll just, you know, basically sell it all, and I’ll make my money back.

And I think that if you’ve ever heard that from someone selling solar, it’s just not true. You know, it’s, it’s not something that we can rely on. I think that, you know, it takes a long time to be able to gather the components off roof, you have to palletize them, you have to strap them for transportation, transportation costs are huge. You also have all of the equipment needed to get it off the roof in terms of rentals, typically bathrooms for a construction facility, you have to apply for permits, you have to apply for, you know, all the different kinds of things.

You have to shut down the system that might affect the operation of the building, and therefore the value of that space during that timeframe. So there’s a lot of things that go into that, to make it where you’re not just able to rip stuff out and throw it and call it a day.

So tell us, pivoting a little bit. Who were your heroes in the environmental movement? Who would go up on your Mount Rushmore of environmental activists?

In my, and it’s so cheesy for me to say it, but I would say that my fiancee is absolutely my driving force my hero when it comes down to my relationship with this and I think it’s always such a cheesy answer. But she is someone that really instilled in me the the ethical, real impact of my actions in the world and in my professional life. And you know, when I think about a future when I think about how I want the world to look, you know, sometimes I can get really focused on the work and the grind and all those things and what keeps me, I think especially motivated on a day to day basis is the understanding that I am creating a world for her for my family for for the people that I really care about.

And by proxy, the connection that I think I have with, you know, just people in general, you know, causing suffering in the world, I think is something that is so, you know, it seems so cheesy, but so unnecessary. And sustainability for me is helping preserve, how do we keep what we have here. And I think there’s a lot of leaders, I’m a member of the Osage Nation out in, you know, forcibly relocated to Oklahoma.

And so a lot of the history of the oil industry has been very challenging, and, you know, very damaging, and there’s a lot of folks in on the Osage reservation, that have been really critical, I think, to kind of shaping my understanding of how our relationship to the planet going to be is our actions going to be ethical, in seven generations from now eight generations from now?

Well, that’s, uh, I appreciate that. And, of course, for audience a, you know, that Osage Nation in the oil industry is the subject of the Leonardo DiCaprio movie that’s come out recently, and, and how, you know, all these murder murders occurred of people who were Native Americans to try to get their money that had come from oil, wealth that, you know, they they obtained. And, you know, just an incredibly tragic story.

I think the other thing that I was thinking about, as you were talking, was that a lot of this goes back to say, John Locke and some of the things that the founders put in the Constitution, but they didn’t really put anything in there about stewardship of the land. And I think at that point in time, it maybe didn’t seem like it was that important, because essentially, it looked like we had unlimited natural resources, and that pollution really wasn’t a problem. And and we’ve kind of let that drop off the map.

You maybe you could talk a little bit about your sense of stewardship, and how we can instill that and maybe make it part of law that we have to consider something like our effect seven generations out?

Yeah, I don’t think that we have a right to hurt other people. And I think that sustainability has always been understood, like the environment is somehow this other thing that doesn’t have a consequence. And by and large, it’s because the consequences from our environmental degradation and a lack of sustainability has affected people who have the least voice, and who have been the least able to speak up and the most disregarded in our society.

And so we’ve always experienced these consequences. And they’ve just become more and more apparent to even people who have the financial resources and the privilege that have been able to potentially avoid it, you know, in the past. And so part of stewardship that I think is important is just recognizing that you don’t have the freedom to do that. It’s not even a choice. Why would you consider it a choice to be able to have such a negative impact to yourself in the world around you really, for personal benefit?

Right? I think that it’s kind of the metastasis of capitalism. And it’s something that it wasn’t considered by, say, Adam Smith, because at the time pollution really wasn’t an issue. So you didn’t have to consider impact on the environment. It wasn’t part of standard economic theory, because it didn’t seem like whatever amount of wood we chopped down or coal we burned, it didn’t really seem to affect anything.

But the truth is that it does now have an effect, we do see the effect. And it’s a selfishness to say, Well, I’m just going to keep burning and polluting, because it feels good. And I like having, you know, a car or this or that the other thing, and what are we going to do to to address that and say, Hey, we don’t have a right to just pollute, you know, it’s got to be limited. How can we create some law that really does protect their rights of nature, and essentially saying, hey, there is no right to just pollute indiscriminately.

While and I think that, you know, in even the basic classroom setting, if if you had a student who was causing a massive disruption and causing issues, you would just have the enforcement of the existing, you know, I think enforcement of the existing tools at our disposal, if you’re at a pizza party, and someone takes 17 of the slices and there’s only one left you they wouldn’t that wouldn’t be allowed, right?

And so it’s common sense kind of ethical behavior, but in the macrocosm, we kind of get to step back and feel like it’s some are very different from the basic examples, we try and teach our kids. And so, you know, for me, we have an Environmental Protection Agency, we have all of the legislation on hand that that does very, very significantly have real impacts and real consequences and real clarity on what you can and can’t do. And so for me, just, you have to do that intelligently.

We don’t want people to jump through inefficient economic hoops. I hate filing unnecessary permits, but I love filing necessary permits. So if it is helping make sure that the world is not causing significant issues, because people have to go through the proper channels and protocols and have someone double check and review. That’s worthwhile. And my thing is self governance is the first step. If we get people to self govern, we don’t have to have anyone come in and say don’t do this, you only have that have like that major, large governmental, you know, the big government stepping in when people have failed to self police and self regulate themselves and their communities.

And so anyone who has the issues and the complaints, take it up with the people who are causing those issues in the first place. Well, you know, we don’t need that as long as you’re not doing it. Well,

I think that, in reality, we have to recognize that people and corporations will take as much as they can take, because we you know, there there is greed out there in the world. And, you know, that’s just reality. So that’s why we have an SEC to protect people in the securities markets. That’s why we have an EPA to put a check on pollution. But those systems aren’t sufficient. They’ve been the EPA has been insufficient to stop the problems that we have, how can you know, it needs to be a more robust system, or else we are going to continue to pollute at levels which will endanger our entire environment.

I mean, we’re already on the precipice of destroying the environment. So and with lots of regulations, but insufficient regulations to say, hey, as you eloquently said, we have no right to hurt other people yet. That is exactly what we’re doing.

And, you know, unfortunately, we don’t have the answer to that question by the end of this session, but you’ve been listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern, and I’ve had Saxton Metzger on the program of NuLife. It’s been great having you on the show, Saxon, and thanks for the great work that you’re doing out there in the community.

Thanks so much for having me, Matt. I appreciate it.

(Note: this is an automatic transcription and may have errors in formatting and grammar.)

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