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August 8, 2023

Solar Power From Slave Power?

There’s a dirty little secret about those Chinese-made solar panels that are popping up everywhere.

It wasn’t supposed to work this way.

When a significant new solar project starts up somewhere in the country, the rationale for it generally checks the following two boxes: state mandates require that a certain percentage of power must be provided by renewables, and scads of government money is available to solar panel sellers and installers to help convince consumers and utilities to take the plunge.

The result is that thousands of rural acres that used to host heaps of corn, wheat, and other commodities now sport rows of shiny solar panels in an effort to pass muster with these mandates and take advantage of the taxpayer funding.

On the other side, though, there’s a dark secret being hidden from most Americans. Perhaps they know that most of the raw materials for making solar panels are sourced from China and are often shipped ready for use. But The New York Times last week featured a story about the troubling origins of this “green” energy staple, and the report should give the industry and its supporters pause. Simply put, as David Strom notes at Hot Air, “The largest solar panel manufacturers in the world are able to sell their inexpensive panels because of where they are located — and that is right where slave labor is made available to them by the Chinese government.”

Whoa. The ChiComs are using slave labor? Who knew?

We’ll pardon the Times for being late to the party, since we’ve noted the accusations of slave labor before. Back in 2021, in fact, our Lewis Morris wrote, “China is using its fossil fuel-heavy industry and slave labor pulled from its persecuted Uyghur Muslim population to build the solar panels that it is selling to the U.S.”

Clearly, the target audience of the Times is oblivious to the genocide in China and much more fully behind “renewable” energy and all of its government carveouts and subsidies than our audience is.

It’s not as if the industry is unaware of this fact. The Solar Energy Industries Association, which serves as an advocate for solar energy providers, developed a pledge earlier this year that’s been signed by more than 300 of its member companies. The pledge reads in part, “To assist in these efforts (of ensuring the solar supply chain is free of forced labor), we support the development of an industry-led solar supply chain traceability protocol as a tool for identifying the source of primary raw materials and inputs and tracking their incorporation into finished products, including solar modules.”

Unfortunately, the solar panel industry is locked into China for the foreseeable future because too much of it depends on materials made and sourced there. “The solar industry has come under stiff criticism in recent years for its ties to Xinjiang,” reports the Times, “which is a key provider of polysilicon, the material from which solar panels are made. The region produces roughly a third of both the world’s polysilicon and its metallurgical-grade silicon, the material from which polysilicon is made.”

Given how difficult it is to verify whether any Chinese product is free of forced labor since they’re not exactly a forthcoming nation, it shows the folly of placing our eggs in a single Red Chinese renewable energy basket.

“The reliability is not great,” says Strom, “and often the true cost of solar power is hidden by the cost of reliable backup generation, but the raw cost of each watt of electricity generated by a panel has been dropping.” Taken by itself, a kilowatt of electricity created by solar comes in cheaper than a kilowatt from natural gas, but a backup energy source must also be taken into account, since the sun doesn’t shine at night or when it rains.

All this raises an obvious question: Why are we helping our enemy succeed by subsidizing the usage of these panels?

For the limited times and places where solar can be useful, such as lighting a rural road sign or powering a small-scale building, we should be able to field a viable solar panel industry here at home. But for the life-sustaining energy we really need, it seems foolish to rely on a nation that enslaves its people, steals our intellectual property, and points missiles at us — especially when we have plentiful supplies of fuel right beneath our feet.

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