Sunday, September 20, 2020

Solar panels generate mountains of waste

They also heat the planet, blanket wildlife habitats and cause other ecological damage

Duggan Flanakin

The problem of solar panel waste is now becoming evident. As environmental journalist Emily Folk admits in Renewable Energy Magazine, “when talking about renewable energy, the topic of waste does not often appear.” She attributes this to the supposed “pressures of climate change” and alleged “urgency to find alternative energy sources,” saying people may thus be hesitant to discuss “possible negative impacts of renewable energy.”

Ms. Folk admits that sustainability requires proper e-waste management. Yet she laments, “Solar presents a particular problem. There is growing evidence that broken panels release toxic pollutants … [and] increasing concern regarding what happens with these materials when they are no longer viable, especially since they are difficult to recycle.”

This is the likely reason that (except in Washington state), there are no U.S. mandates for solar recycling. A recent article in Grist reports that most used solar panels are shipped to developing countries that have little electricity and weak environmental protections, to be reused or landfilled.

The near-total absence of end-of-life procedures for solar panels is likely a byproduct of the belief (and repeated, unsupported assertion) that renewable energy is “clean” and “green.” Indeed, Mississippi Sierra Club state director Louie Miller recently claimed that unlike fossil fuels and nuclear energy, “Sunshine is a free fuel.” Well, sunshine is certainly free and clean. However, there is a monumental caveat.

Harnessing sunshine (and wind) to serve humanity is not free – or clean, green, renewable or sustainable.

The 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act mandates that new surface coal mines include plans and set aside funds for full reclamation of mine properties. The law also sets standards for restoring abandoned mine lands. There is nothing akin to this for solar facilities and wastes.

Similarly, the 1980 Superfund law (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act) created a tax and trust fund to pay for preventing and fixing actual or threatened releases of hazardous substances that could endanger public health or the environment. Again, still nothing for solar.

The 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act prioritizes deep geologic repositories for safe storage and/or disposal of radioactive waste. Unfortunately, 25 years after being designated as the disposal site, Nevada’s Yucca Mountain has never opened, because of conflicts among politicians, locals, anti-nuclear activists, government officials and the nuclear industry. The U.S. still stores its nuclear waste at 75 scattered sites, including some near New York City, New Orleans and Chicago. For solar no steps have been taken.

While coal, nuclear, and petrochemical companies must come up with detailed, costly plans for dealing with real or potential negative consequences of their operations, solar (and wind) companies have been rewarded with massive subsidies and absolutely no disposal standards or requirements.

No government grants require that solar companies set aside money to dispose of, store or recycle wastes generated during manufacturing or after massive solar “farms” have ceased functioning and been torn down. Solar (and wind) customers are likewise not charged for waste cleanup, disposal, or reuse and recycling. This and the massive subsidies distort and hide the true costs of solar power.

But reality is starting to catch up. Disposal (or recycling) costs will have to be paid, ultimately by consumers. The more solar panels we have (likely billions within a few years), the higher those costs will be. Consumers in states like California that have committed to heavy reliance on solar (and wind) energy (and already have the nation’s highest energy bills) will have to pay even more.

California is also facing a secondary problem from the proliferation of subsidized industrial solar installations. A 2015 study by Stanford University and the Carnegie Institution for Science found that nearly a third of the state’s solar development is occurring on former cropland, where many farmers are shifting from growing crops to using their land to generate electricity – rather than letting it become wildlife habitat. As Big Solar also moves into natural areas, California is losing even more habitat and scenic land, while the integrity of state and national parks suffers from the nearby glare of countless solar panels and towering transmission lines to distant cities.

The Stanford study highlights another problem: localized higher temperatures. It found it will take an area the size of South Carolina filled with solar arrays to meet California’s goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. [It would take at least eight South Carolinas if the California mandate were extended nationwide.]

Other research has found that these large-scale solar power plants raise local temperatures, creating a significant solar heat island effect. Temperatures around one solar power plant were 5.4o-7.2 °F (3o-4°C) warmer than nearby wildlands. Imagine such manmade “global warming” across 20 million acres (South Carolina) or 160 million acres (Texas), to meet California or U.S. greenhouse gas reduction goals!

Australia is already coping with this unwelcome reality. Not until 2018 did Aussie environment ministers mandate fast-track development of new product stewardship schemes for photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, like those television and computer manufacturers and retailers have had to comply with since 2011.

Total Environment Centre director Jeff Angel admitted that setting standards for life-of-product management for solar panels was “long overdue,” and that the 30-year delay in imposing standards revealed a “fundamental weakness” in Australia’s waste policies. He further noted that while solar panels contain hazardous substances, Aussies are “sending hundreds of thousands of e-waste items to landfills” and creating significant pollution problems. And Australia has less than a tenth of the U.S. population!

Since 2002, the European Union’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive has required that original producers of e-wastes guarantee and pay for taking back and recycling their wastes, so that end-user consumers aren’t surprised by additional disposal costs.

However, PV solar panel waste was not included in this mandate until July 2012 – and “some uncertainty remains” about the cutoff date for such wastes, because the directive has yet to be implemented in national laws. Producer financing of PV waste treatment thus cannot be applied to older solar panels. So who will pay? And how much?

Ms. Folk and others look to waste-to-energy plants, and indeed the EU does send much of its solar panel waste to incinerators – which many environmentalists oppose. Landfilling is not a viable option in the U.S., because toxins could leach out. Unscrupulous companies ship solar panel waste to developing nations, but that is a stopgap solution that is environmentally irresponsible.

Tao Meng, lead author of a new study, says “the big blind spot in the U.S. for recycling is that the cost far exceeds the revenue” – by nearly 10-to-1, especially when including transportation costs. Chemicals must be used to remove silver and lead from silicon modules before they can be safely placed in landfills, Meng notes.

The problem of solar panel waste will continue to grow as more panels reach their end of life. Four years ago the International Renewable Energy Agency estimated there were already about 250,000 metric tons of solar panel waste worldwide – and that total will explode to 78 million metric tons by 2050!

So when you read that solar energy is already cheaper than natural gas, don’t be fooled. They are omitting the pollution and disposal costs, as well as habitat losses, solar heat islands, and the need for backup power generation or batteries – to lowball the true costs of intermittent, season, latitude and [weather]weather-dependent solar. We need some honest math now, before it’s too late to turn back.

Via email

UK: Metaldehyde slug pellets to be banned from spring 2022

A ban on the outdoor use of metaldehyde slug pellets is to be introduced across Great Britain from spring 2022.

Defra farm minister Victoria Prentis said the decision to ban the use of the pesticide on farms and in gardens, except in permanent greenhouses, was being taken “in order to better protect wildlife and the environment”.

It follows advice from the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides and the Health and Safety Executive about the risks that metaldehyde poses to birds and mammals, especially birds, toads and hedgehogs.  

Ms Prentis said: “The scientific evidence is clear – the risks metaldehyde pose to the environment and to wildlife are too great.

“The government is committed to building back greener and the restrictions on the use of metaldehyde are another step towards building a cleaner and greener country for the next generation.”

Metaldehyde will be phased out by 31 March 2022 to give growers and gardeners appropriate time to switch to alternative slug control measures.

It will be legal to sell metaldehyde products until 31 March 2021, with use of the products then allowed for a further 12 months.

Slugs are a significant pest for agricultural and horticultural crops such as oilseed rape, cereals and potatoes, which, if left unchecked, can cause significant damage.


One Democrat Governor Already Looking for a Way Out of Biden’s Suffocating Energy Proposal

Democrat Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico has quietly been trying to find a way to evade an energy proclamation by a potential Joe Biden administration.

Lujan Grisham has been a vocal supporter of Biden throughout his campaign, even making the shortlist of potential vice presidential picks. She also had the distinction of announcing her state’s commitment to supporting Biden as the Democratic presidential candidate during the virtual roll call of the Democratic National Convention. Lujan Grisham has also been named to Biden’s potential transition team.

But while the governor appears to be all in for Biden on the surface, his energy proposals seem to have her spooked and looking for a way to be exempt should new laws come to New Mexico.

Earlier this month, a study suggested that Biden’s current stance on fracking, a position he has flip-flopped over and left supporters and critics scratching their heads, would be “devastating” for New Mexico.

“Restricting oil and gas development on federal lands will rob New Mexico of opportunities for economic growth and hollow our schools of critical resources that put teachers in classrooms and help our young children learn,” said New Mexico Oil and Gas Association Executive Director Ryan Flynn. Currently, New Mexico accounts for more than 30 percent of onshore natural gas production in the United States and nearly 60 percent of all onshore oil production.

Though the prospective Biden administration has been less than clear about their policies on fracking in general, they have been crystal clear that leasing of federal land or waters for the purpose of fracking or any production of natural energy would be strictly banned.

This is a huge problem for states like New Mexico, whose recent years of economic achievement have been due to investments in the future of energy in the state.

“An affordable and reliable energy supply is essential to a strong America and banning energy development on federal lands and in offshore waters not only threatens thousands of the best paying jobs but needlessly erases much needed revenue that helps pay for schools and other essential services,” Texas Oil and Gas Association President Todd Staples told the Carlsbad Current-Argus.

“American oil and natural gas is safe, clean and abundant, and misguided policies will only stifle our nation’s energy progress,” Staples continued.

The American Petroleum Institute estimated that the banning of new federal leases for energy production in New Mexico would lead to the loss of approximately 22,000 jobs in the state, a $1.1 billion loss in state revenue, and the reduction of oil and gas production by nearly 50 percent.

“Banning federal leasing and development on federal lands and waters would derail decades of U.S. energy progress and return us to the days of relying on foreign energy sources hostile to American interests,” said API director Mike Sommers.

A spokesperson for Lujan Grisham said the governor has not officially committed to seeking a waiver from the Biden-Harris policy vows.

“I would say it’s premature to be indicating anything about waivers for federal policies that don’t exist yet,” said spokesperson Nora Meyers Sackett. “If we are fortunate enough to have a President Biden, the governor knows that will require a close working relationship to both protect our environment and rebuild our state’s economy, and we look forward to those discussions and that work.

But Lujan Grisham has already faced tremendous pressure from residents and officials in New Mexico who see only disaster if Biden is voted across the finish line in November.

“No doubt Biden’s energy plans would spell disaster for our state and that’s why it’s critical for New Mexicans to know where their leaders stand,” said Western States Director of Power the Future Larry Behrens.

“Biden has spent the last weeks tripping over his position on fracking, so it’s no surprise some New Mexico leaders would rather stay silent. However, thousands of energy jobs and billions of dollars are at stake and we deserve answers.”


Australia: Much of Queensland’s legislation against farmers was ‘completely unnecessary’

Marine scientist and physicist Professor Peter Ridd says data showing pesticides bear a a negligible impact on the Great Barrier Reef means much of the Queensland government’s new legislation against farmers were “completely unnecessary”.

Professor Ridd said it was recently revealed by the director of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, that only 3 per cent of the whole Great Barrier Reef, the ‘inshore reefs’, was affected by farm pesticides.

He said it was revealed even for the affected 3 per cent, pesticides were a low to negligible risk.

“It’s only 3 per cent of the whole Great Barrier Reef, and even when you look at the data on that … even on that 3 per cent, pesticides are a low to negligible risk,” Professor Ridd told Sky News host Chris Kenny.

“(Which) basically means a lot of this new legislation the Queensland government is bringing on against farmers is completely unnecessary.”




Preserving the graphics: Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere. But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life — as little as a week in some cases. After that they no longer come up. From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together — which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site. See here or here


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