Solar Power: Bad News on the Jobs and Environment Fronts

A little over a week ago I wrote about the continuing failure of President Obama’s green jobs stimulus efforts to actually produce jobs – green or otherwise.  One of the problem-child examples of the Administration’s failed efforts was a solar panel manufacturer named Solydra that received $535 million dollars in federal (that means taxpayer) loans to build a new factory and create 1,000 new jobs.  Rather than creating new jobs, once the new factory was built, Solyndra closed their older factory resulting in no net job growth.

Since then, Solyndra has shuttered its brand new factory – putting 1,100 people out of work with no warning and no severance packages – and notified the press of its intent to file bankruptcy.  Now California has an additional industrial building sitting idle and we taxpayers are left holding the bag.  Gotta Love those green jobs!

For solar energy boosters the news gets even worse.  Everyone acknowledges that solar power is not competitive on price or reliability with traditional sources of electric power (e.g., coal, nuclear, natural gas).  Solar farms can’t be relied upon for either baseload or peaking power.  The real selling point for solar is its claimed environmental benefits.  The problem is, solar energy is not quite as “clean and green” as it booster’s like to claim.

If, to be “Green,” an energy source must have no negative environmental impact, then there are no green energy sources.  Every source of power emits pollutants or
uses or impacts scarce natural resources to some degree. In an earlier paper, I
examined some of the myriad environmental problems that wind power causes.  In a study released in May 2011, I gave a brief overview of some of the negative environmental impacts that large scale solar farms produce.  Now, a new study has found an entirely new, arguably deadly environmental/human health problem that results from solar power generation.

A study published in the journal Energy Policy, finds that the growing use of solar power is responsible for an increase in lead emissions and lead poisoning.

The study by Chris Cherry, assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering in University of Tennessee, Knoxville, discovered that solar power, which depends particularly on lead batteries to store the energy they generate, releases more than 2.4 million tons of lead pollution in China and India.  Indeed, if solar power grows as much as many predict, it could be responsible for one-third of global lead pollution.  I’ll let the article speak for itself:

“The researchers found that the countries have large
amounts of lead leak into the environment from mining, smelting, battery
manufacturing, and recycling – 33 percent in China and 22 percent in India.

Also, a large percentage of new solar power systems
continues to be reliant on lead batteries for energy storage due to the
inadequate power grid in these countries.

“Investments in environmental controls in the lead
battery industry, along with improvements in battery take-back policies, are
needed to complement deployment of solar power in these countries,” said
Cherry.

“Without improvements, it is increasingly clear that
the use of lead batteries will contribute to environmental contamination and
lead poisoning among workers and children,” he added.”

Lead poisoning can damage the central nervous system, the kidneys, the cardiovascular system and the reproductive system.  In the U.S. we’ve removed lead from paint and gasoline, reducing lead emissions by more than 93 percent since 1980.  How ironic that the push for green energy threatens a health crisis as bad or worse than the pollution problems it is claimed to avoid.

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