A leading activist has raised concerns over the ecological impact of solar panels — a renewable energy technology widely considered to be harmless to the environment.
Michael Shellenberger — the president of Environmental Progress, a nonprofit organization working to promote clean energy — detailed the real life impacts of discarded solar installation. Solar technology typically contains cadmium, lead and other toxic chemicals that can’t be extracted without taking apart the whole panel, resulting in entire solar panels being considered hazardous, Shellenberger noted in a Wednesday Forbes article.
More specifically, these toxic chemicals become an environmental threat when solar panels reach their end-of-life stage and need to be disposed. Panels left in landfills may break apart and release toxic waste into the ground or even enter bodies of water. Solar panel disposal in “regular landfills [is] not recommended in case modules break and toxic materials leach into the soil,” Electric Power Research Institute determined in a 2016 study.
There is growing concern over the possibility of rainwater washing cadmium out of panels and into the environment. In Virginia, for example, a group of locals are pushing back against a proposal to construct a 6,350 acre solar farm in Spotsylvania County. (RELATED: Here’s How Renewable Energy Actually Hurts The Environment)
“We estimate there are 100,000 pounds of cadmium contained in the 1.8 million panels,” Sean Fogarty of Concerned Citizens of Fawn Lake stated to Shellenberger. “Leaching from broken panels damaged during natural events — hail storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. — and at decommissioning is a big concern.”