The Dirty Little Secret About 'Clean' Energy

(Image of solar panels at Presidio of Monterey via USACE)


Today, you’ll be reading a lot about the future green energy and the dangers of ‘evil’ fossil fuels. Environmentalists are enthralled by the idea of renewable technologies – especially solar – as a cure-all for our nation’s energy needs.

Although harvesting energy from the sun is a noble idea, solar technology is costly, inefficient, unreliable, and shockingly dirty. The more we learn about solar panels, the more we should appreciate the reliable energy sources that we already have.

Proponents of solar panels say they’re a clean source of power with minimal environmental impact, but that couldn’t be further than the truth. The rare earth metals used to build solar panels are mined through a chemical process that releases a multitude of toxins into the environment. A concentrated mix of chemicals is pumped into ground to push out rare earth metals, heavily polluting water supplies and the air near mining sites. It’s no wonder the U.S. hasn’t pursued these resources, despite large deposits located domestically.

But the pollution doesn’t stop at the mine. According to California state records, the solar panel manufacturers in that state have produced nearly 50 million pounds of toxic sludge and contaminated water over the past five years. This waste then has to be transported by truck and rail to toxic waste dumps, sometimes thousands of miles away. Disposing the waste created by one solar panel burns as much energy as that panel can generate in three months!

Unsurprisingly, environmental groups fail to take any of this collateral damage into account when calculating the “carbon footprint” of solar energy. There’s also shockingly little transparency in the solar panel industry. Only 22 of the 114 leading solar panel manufacturers in America have cooperated with the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, which is compiling a scorecard to help green energy companies learn from each other’s mistakes. And more than half of California’s solar companies reported “zero waste” to the state – a figure which seems impossible, given the dirty manufacturing process.

No source of energy is waste-free, but solar power’s sins could be forgiven if it were affordable, efficient, or reliable. But it’s none of the above—and American energy producers and consumers are giving up on it. A study by GTM Research found that skyrocketing costs and cratering demand will force 180 solar manufacturers out of business by the end of 2015. According to Ucilia Wang at Forbes, solar panel manufacturing in the U.S. may disappear by the end of this year.

It speaks volumes that communist China is the world’s leader in solar power, while consumers in free-market economies are rejecting the technology. But not even massive government assistance has been able to save the Chinese solar panel industry, which is expected to lose dozens of plants in the near future. In fact, the US has become a net exporter of solar products to China. When our federally-subsidized solar manufacturers can’t find a better market for their unwanted panels than the Chinese government, it’s a serious indication that government-sponsored solar power doesn’t work in America.

Some small-scale solar projects have been successful, however, and ultimately the free market should determine whether solar technologies are part of the solution to our energy needs. Although American consumers have found other sources of power to be far more cost-efficient and reliable, it’s private sector innovation and consumer choice that will determine solar power’s fate, not wasteful government subsidies.

Solar energy is the white whale of the green movement, always on the horizon but impractical to obtain. It’s long past time for our government to stop wasting taxpayer money on doomed solar projects, and instead promote policies that expand clean and reliable domestic sources of power, like natural gas. While environmentalists promote solar technology despite the untold amount of damage done to the environment, we should recommit to exploring clean sources of energy that are actually capable of powering our future.

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