Solar Llama Courtesy of Revision Energy

Plans are in the works for installing a solar array development on my neighbor’s farm adjacent to our land. Marketing efforts call these arrays “farms,” giving the technology a warm fuzzy feeling.

Anything we do to the environment affects us all, so while I respect a landowner’s rights, I also appreciate the earth and its inhabitants. If there’s one thing COVID has served to teach us is that we are all interconnected. We should do the least harm when striving to do the most good. I think we can all agree that solar energy is a good idea in general. The effects of this technology on the environment is in question.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), by 2050, globally 78 million metric tons of solar panels will have reached the end of their lifecycle. Solar panels are composed of cheap metals, plastics, and other materials such as sulfur hexafluoride, a formidable greenhouse gas. Broken panels in landfills can leach lead or other heavy materials. Landfill technology protects us from contaminated groundwater runoff but what of decomposing panels in fields?

We can’t know if another contamination occurs because this technology doesn’t have the same environmental standards as other ventures. There is no baseline water testing or soil sampling to measure metals or other contamination. We don’t know what effects the solar arrays have on the soil and animals as they stand in fields. Without any of these testing results, it’s impossible to predict or later assess what damage they have caused the environment.

The US has a patchwork menagerie of recycling regulations. Where it’s allowed, it costs less than a dollar to dump panels into a landfill, while recycling costs exceed a 10-1 ratio. Prefunded disposal efforts should be the responsibility of energy companies such as New England’s Revision Energy. I searched their website for recycling plans but only got a photo of a cute llama meme telling me, “Solar llama says sorry I found nothing.” First Solar is an innovative US company that according to their website, prefunds recycling 95% of cadmium telluride and 90% of the glass. has an excellent article on successful European efforts in recycling solar e-waste.

Expansive, responsible testing is necessary. Environmentally safe recycling efforts must be mandatory. Stop shipping solar e-waste to developing countries. Until these remedies are in place and there is strong incentive for energy-producing companies to invest in environmentally safe power options before, during, and after use, the environment’s danger will persist.

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