Douglas Andrews / Sep. 1, 2020

Green Energy Isn't So Green

The often toxic waste produced by solar panels and wind turbines is piling up.

When you hear the term “green energy,” what’s the first word that pops into your head? Okay, the first word besides “fake,” “faux,” “false,” “fraud,” “fable,” or “fascism,” which are way too obvious. And besides “hockey stick hoax” or “polar bear hoax,” which aren’t single words. And besides “Goregasm” or “Solyndra,” which are made-up words.

If “dirty” doesn’t come to mind, it should. Because there’s an ever-growing landfill of evidence that the so-called Green Revolution is also an extraordinarily toxic and wasteful one.

Columnist Michael Shellenberger called our attention to green energy’s dirty little secret in 2018 when he asked a simple question: “If solar panels are so clean, why do they produce so much toxic waste?”

Shellenberger cited a 2016 International Renewable Energy Agency estimate that there were approximately 275,000 tons of solar panel waste worldwide at that time — a figure the agency says could reach more than 85 million tons by 2050. He also cited research scientists at the German Stuttgart Institute for Photovoltaics who wrote, “Contrary to previous assumptions, pollutants such as lead or carcinogenic cadmium can be almost completely washed out of the fragments of solar modules over a period of several months, for example by rainwater.”

Clearly, then, crushing these millions of spent solar panels and dumping them into landfills isn’t the answer. But what about — wait for it — recycling them? Well, as Shellenberger notes, the toxic chemicals within the panels can’t be removed without breaking apart the entire module. And, as San Jose State environmental studies professor Dustin Mulvaney notes, “Approximately 90% of most [photovoltaic] modules are made up of glass. However, this glass often cannot be recycled as float glass due to impurities” such as plastics, lead, cadmium, and antimony.

Besides, writes Shellenberger, “Recycling costs more than the economic value of the materials recovered, which is why most solar panels end up in landfills.” So we can scratch the recycling idea, too — except maybe in California, where fiscal realities have never once stopped an economically ruinous environmental policy from being enacted.

What’s that, you say? All this isn’t nearly as bad as nuclear waste? Uh, wrong. As the folks at Environmental Progress tell us, “Solar panels create 300 times more toxic waste per unit of energy than do nuclear power plants.” Then there’s the Chinese recycling official who says the solar panel disposal issue “will explode with full force in two or three decades and wreck the environment.”

So we’ve got that going for us. Which is nice.

As for those gigantic wind turbines, they don’t introduce all the toxins that spent solar panels do, but these view-wrecking, bird-killing Cuisinarts in the sky have their own disposal problems just the same.

Even NPR has come clean. “While most of a turbine can be recycled or find a second life on another wind farm,” writes Christina Stella, “researchers estimate the U.S. will have more than 720,000 tons of blade material to dispose of over the next 20 years, a figure that doesn’t include newer, taller higher-capacity versions.”

“There aren’t many options to recycle or trash turbine blades,” Stella continues, “and what options do exist are expensive, partly because the U.S. wind industry is so young. It’s a waste problem that runs counter to what the industry is held up to be: a perfect solution for environmentalists looking to combat climate change, an attractive investment for companies such as Budweiser and Hormel Foods, and a job creator across the Midwest and Great Plains.”

Worn-out windmill blades are typically 100 to 300 feet long, are made of a durable but otherwise useless combination of resin and fiberglass, have to be cut up before being hauled away on specialized vehicles, can’t be crushed by most landfill machines, and take up an enormous amount of space that might otherwise be taken up by toxic solar panels.

Suffice it to say that we’re long overdue for an intervention between the Left and its unhealthy obsession with “green” energy.

By the way: Ever seen what a hurricane can do to a solar farm?

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