Green Energy’s Hazardous Wastes

by Veronique de Rugy

When we think about green energy, we think about the sun or the wind, which are indeed renewable and clean energies — but the technology in the solar panels and wind turbines needed to harness them are not. For instance, manufacturing a turbine, assembling, erecting, and connecting the turbine to the grid causes a significant amount of pollution, as does servicing the turbine. There are also concerns about how many bats and birds wind farms kill. Solar panels obviously don’t kill birds, but their production has a dirty side to it, too.

The Associated Press has an interesting piece today about how the solar industry is grappling with hazardous wastes. Here is a tidbit:

While solar is a far less polluting energy source than coal or natural gas, many panel makers are nevertheless grappling with ahazardous waste problem. Fueled partly by billions in government incentives, the industry is creating millions of solar panels each year and, in the process, millions of pounds of polluted sludge and contaminated water.

To dispose of the material, the companies must transport it by truck or rail far from their own plants to waste facilities hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of miles away.

The fossil fuels used to transport that waste, experts say, is not typically considered in calculating solar’s carbon footprint, giving scientists and consumers who use the measurement to gauge a product’s impact on global warming the impression that solar is cleaner than it is. . . .

The state records show the 17 companies, which had 44 manufacturing facilities in California, produced 46.5 million pounds of sludge and contaminated water from 2007 through the first half of 2011. Roughly 97 percent of it was taken to hazardous waste facilities throughout the state, but more than 1.4 million pounds were transported to nine other states: Arkansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Nevada, Washington, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona.

Several solar energy experts said they have not calculated the industry’s total waste and were surprised at what the records showed.

Solyndra, the now-defunct solar company that received $535 million in guaranteed federal loans, reported producing about 12.5 million pounds of hazardous waste, much of it carcinogenic cadmium-contaminated water, which was sent to waste facilities from 2007 through mid-2011.

And here is a chart: