Are solar panels the worst thing for the environment ever? Um, no
Solar panel users.
Some very bad news, American consumers. You know those solar panels that you thought were so “green”? Turns out that they’re completely terrible for the environment. Seriously. Completely terrible and awful and you’re basically personally responsible for the eventual decline and collapse of modern civilization if you use one. It’s sad, but true.
From the Associated Press:
While solar is a far less polluting energy source than coal or natural gas, many panel makers are nevertheless grappling with a hazardous waste problem. Fueled partly by billions in government incentives, the industry is creating millions of solar panels each year and, in the process, millions of pounds of polluted sludge and contaminated water.
To dispose of the material, the companies must transport it by truck or rail far from their own plants to waste facilities hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of miles away.
The fossil fuels used to transport that waste, experts say, is not typically considered in calculating solar’s carbon footprint, giving scientists and consumers who use the measurement to gauge a product’s impact on global warming the impression that solar is cleaner than it is.
You there. With the solar panel on your roof. Thanks for killing America.
To be fair, pollution is bad. The AP report suggests that pollution in the solar industry may be unusually high because of the industry’s rapid growth. But what we’re talking about isn’t pollution from solar panels, it’s pollution from manufacturing. That’s been a challenge for far longer than solar panels have existed.
The AP outlines how much pollution we’re talking about, at least in California: “46.5 million pounds of sludge and contaminated water from 2007 through the first half of 2011.” That’s about 11 million pounds of sludge and water a year. By comparison, the fracking industry used at least 70 billion gallons of water a year [PDF] in 2010. Some of that was recycled, but the industry still produces about 584 trillion pounds of waste a year. This is an apples-to-oranges comparison, but a very small apple and a very, very large orange.
Anyway, the AP added this toward the bottom of the article:
The roughly 20-year life of a solar panel still makes it some of the cleanest energy technology currently available. Producing solar is still significantly cleaner than fossil fuels. Energy derived from natural gas and coal-fired power plants, for example, creates more than 10 times more hazardous waste than the same energy created by a solar panel, according to [San Jose State University environmental studies professor Dustin] Mulvaney.
Excluding, presumably, the greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels. Why count those?
As of my writing this, the Associated Press’ report hadn’t yet been picked up by Fox News or hailed by a Republican member of Congress. We will update the post when that eventuality occurs.
Never mind. Glenn Beck’s The Blaze picked it up. The headline is absolutely priceless. “Associated Press: Solar energy actually has a big ‘hazardous waste problem’ (and how much did Solyndra contaminate?)”
You can make this stuff up if you’re creative enough, but you never actually need to.
Philip Bump writes about the news for Gristmill. He also uses Twitter a whole lot.
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