by Brittany Raymer
Digital Writer & Editor
How the push to adopt solar energy for homes may ironically lead to dangerous heavy metal contamination
The Los Angeles Times is reporting that discarded solar panels are likely contaminating landfills across California. If true, it once again shows that the rush to adopt green energy policies may have unforeseen consequences.
Solar panels are often described as the future of energy, especially residential energy. Companies even send salespeople door to door to try and convince families that paying thousands up front for install will save them thousands for probably about two decades.
But all of those solar panels have a shelf life, and what happens when they must be discarded?
The LA Times dug into this question and came to a rather startling conclusion, especially for a left-leaning outlet. As it turns out, these panels may be causing environmental damage while supposedly trying to prevent environmental damage.
It’s rather ironic.
Per the report, only one in ten panels is recyclable and the rest usually end up in landfills, where over time it can break down and can contaminate the “groundwater with heavy metals such as lead, selenium and cadmium.”
Those that can be recycled go through an arduous process that requires specialized furnaces, expensive restrictions and other hinderances that makes disposal rather difficult.
As solar industry expert Sam Vanderhoof points out, “The industry is supposed to be green. But in reality, it’s all about the money.”
The broad adoption of solar panels was the result of the California Public Utilities Commission, which formed the California Solar Initiative. It offered $3.3 billion in subsidies for members of the public to invest in green energy and install these on their rooftops.
The plan was wildly popular and now solar accounts for 15% of the state’s power. There are also plans to continue expanding solar energy, but there are increasing concerns about how to properly dispose of the material.
“This trash is probably going to arrive sooner than we expected, and it is going to be a huge amount of waste,” said Serasu Duran, an assistant professor at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business in Canada. “But while all the focus has been on building this renewable capacity, not much consideration has been put on the end of life of these technologies.”
In 2021, this technology was installed about every 60 seconds, so the problem of proper disposal will only grow as time goes on.
But though there is an obvious need to address this issue, solar energy and green activists are seemingly already pushing back. This is evident in a “for the record” inclusion by The LA Times two paragraphs into the article.
It begins: “An earlier version of this article mischaracterized the environmental risk posed by heavy metals in consumer photovoltaic arrays. This story has been edited to clarify that panels containing toxic materials are routed for disposal to landfills with extra safeguards against leakage, and to note that panels that contain cadmium and selenium are primarily used in utility-grade applications.”
Generally, corrections are introduced at the end or with a brief line at the beginning—a four paragraph long correction either means that the reporter didn’t do their due diligence or, perhaps, they received pushback from green energy activists.
Given that the correction tries to argue that the impact on the environment is minimal, it’s pretty much a blow to the entire piece to have that kind of correction, even if it is appropriate. And reading through the entire article, it’s clear that the experts are worried, so if this really is a problem. Why hide it?
The Biden administration has made green energy policy it’s number one priority, and North Carolina has adopted a similar strategy. Solar energy, in addition to wind turbines, are considered one of the renewable sources for the future of the Tar Heel State.
But what if lowering carbon emissions results in groundwater contamination? You’re then just exchanging one environmental catastrophe for another. Wind turbine blades can also not be recycled and must be broken down and put in landfills.
Before the government runs headlong into green policy in North Carolina, constituents should be asking officials if they have a disposal plan.
For more about how wind turbine blades can’t be recycled, check out Locke’s CEO Amy O’Cooke explanation here.