Opinion: Panels just tip of the solar waste iceberg

By Lyndon Griffin, Morrison County Record

The Dec. 11, 2018, Morrison County Board meeting produced very interesting discussion concerning one agenda item. Board members were focused on solar farm deconstruction (decommissioning) costs at the end of a 30-year land lease. Proposed financial protection was centered on a $50,000 bond for the first 15 years, followed by a $300,000 bond for the final 15 years.

Thus, the solar farm company had committed to bond premium costs, backed by future assets. Then the Board wisely requested a $300,000 cash escrow fund instead. Amazingly, the solar farm representative immediately agreed to the cash in advance. Many in attendance were stunned.

This is the tip of a solar industry iceberg. Let’s examine what lies beneath.

Solar panel surfaces are large because sunlight is both dilute and diffuse, requiring large solar collectors. So disposing of the panels is a big project. While panels can be projected to have a 30-year life, many have shorter life spans due to rain, hail, severe storms, environmental regulation or shortened land lease renegotiation. Whatever the timeline, the panels must be properly disposed of.

Solar energy may be termed “clean” energy, but the solar panels themselves are not. Approximately 90 percent of most modules are made of glass, which often cannot be recycled due to impurities. These impurities include plastics, lead, cadmium and antimony. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates we now have 250,000 metric tons of solar panel waste in the world, with 78 million tons projected in 30 years.

Sadly, this waste is destined for landfills. The Electric Power Research Institute does not recommend solar panels be sent to landfills as the toxic material may leach into the soil. So do other alternatives reasonably exist?

Read full column in the Morrison County Record

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