Solar may be somewhat less polluting than coal or natural gas but it is definitely not 100% green. It is only a degree of green.
Thanks to all the taxpayer money the government has funneled into this boondoggle, the solar industry is creating millions of solar panel every year. But before you get all a’twitter, these “green” panels are producing millions of pounds of polluted sludge and contaminated water.
How do you dispose of all that contaminated “green” waste – why you just transport it out by truck or rail to waste facilities hundreds, and sometimes thousands of miles away. Wait, trucks and trains operate on what? You’re right – fossil fuels.
The government doesn’t bother to count the fossil fuels used to transport that waste when they calculate solar’s carbon footprint. Dustin Mulvaney, a San Jose State University environmental studies professor, who conducts carbon footprint analyses of solar, biofuel and natural gas says that “it would take one to three months, depending on the type of solar panel you use, of generating electricity to pay off the energy invested in the cost of transporting those hazardous waste emissions out of state. Others have calculated up to two years. But, to be fair, it would be hard for the government to count the fossil fuels used since they don’t keep any records.
The manufacture of solar panels, like computers and almost any other electronics, makes use of a bevy of toxic chemicals, many of them carcinogens. Solar panels can contain lead – a potent neurotoxin, cadmium – a known carcinogen, nitrogen triflouride – a potent greenhouse gas, or mercury. A toxic sludge is created when metals and other toxins are removed from water used in the manufacturing process. If a company doesn’t have its own treatment equipment, then it will send the sludge to be stored at an approved dump.
The United States and European Union, have strict restrictions on the use of these chemicals, and manufacturers in the West don’t typically pose a problem. But many solar panels use materials produced in countries with lax environmental laws — and that can lead to the same kinds of problems that have bedeviled the electronics industry, says Sheila Davis, executive director of the Silicon Valley Toxins Coalition, an electronics industry watchdog group that released a report on toxic waste in solar power.
The Associated Press compiled a list of 41 solar makers in California who enacted a law in the 1970s requiring industrial plants like solar panel makers to report the amount of hazardous materials they produce, and where they send it. The California Department of Toxic Substances Control only had data on 17 of the 41 solar makers. But, I guess when your head cheerleader is Obama you can get away with pretty much anything, even ignoring the law.
The records of the 17 companies that actually obeyed California’s law had 44 manufacturing facilities that produced 46.5 million pounds of sludge and contamined water from 2007 through the first half of 2011. About 97% of that pollution was taken to hazardous waste facilities throughout California. More than 1.4 million pounds were transported to nine other states: Arkansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Nevada, Washington, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona for disposal.
Solyndra, one of Obama’s prized manufacturers that got $535 million in guaranteed taxpayer loans, produced 12.5 milli0n pounds of hazardous waste, much of it carcinogenic cadmium contaminated water between 2007 to mid 2011, before going bankrupt. Records also show that other Silicon Valley solar facilities created millions of pounds of toxic waste without selling a single solar panel.
The vast majority of solar companies that generated hazardous waste in California have not been cited for waste-related pollution violations, although three had minor violations on file.
China is already experiencing problems caused through the dumping of toxic waste products. “The land where you dump or bury it will be infertile. No grass or trees will grow in the place. . . . It is like dynamite — it is poisonous, it is polluting. Human beings can never touch it,” said Ren Bingyan, a professor at the School of Material Sciences at Hebei Industrial University.
In China, polysilicon plants are the new dot-coms. Flush with venture capital and with generous grants and low-interest loans from a central government
touting its efforts to seek clean energy alternatives, China is building polysilicon manufacturing plants. The combined capacity of these new factories is estimated at 80,000 to 100,000 tons — more than double the 40,000 tons produced in the entire world today.
Because of the environmental hazard, polysilicon companies in the developed world are trying to recycle the compound, putting it back into the production process. But the high investment costs and time, not to mention the enormous energy consumption required for heating the substance to more than 1800 degrees Fahrenheit for the recycling, have discouraged many factories in China from doing the same. Other solar plants in China have never bothered to install the technology required.
So why should we care what happens in China – it could never happen here, right? Do I need to remind you of the fact that the electronics industry generated 2.6 million tons of waste in 2005, most of which was ditched in landfills or incinerators, or shipped to developing nations for disposal where that waste leached into ground water, harming the environment and people. There are quite a few disreputable people in this country that wouldn’t have any problem with dumping these toxic waste if it meant making a buck. It has happened before and it will happen again.
In addition to the transportation of hazard waste, the manufacture of solar panels emits greenhouse gases. Electricity is used to manufacture solar panels, resulting in greenhouse gases — and some other kinds of emissions stem from solar panel production as well. There is trace gases like nitrogen trifluoride, or NF3, a greenhouse gas 17,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide. NF3 is commonly used in the manufacture of electronics and some solar panels. The gas is confined but a fraction often escapes during the process.
In October, 2008 Ray Weiss, a professor of geochemistry at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, and other scientists found NF3 levels were increasing at 11 percent each year, although they cause is unclear. Production of some other panels involves another gas called sulfur hexafluoride — the most potent greenhouse gas known to science.
Don’t get me wrong – 20 to 30 years down the road I myself may have solar panels. But I refuse to be “guilted” into installing something that only tilts slightly toward “green.” I prefer to wait until safeguards have been installed to protect the planet from the pollution that production generates and an effective, required means to recycle the panels once their life span has ended.
Government has once again put the cart before the horse in falling in line with the United Nations global warming scam.