Issues & Insights
Airman 1st Class Nadine Y. Barclay

That Dirty Green Energy

I&I Editorial

We argued last week that California’s blackouts offered a grim preview of the left’s energy agenda. But that’s only part of the carefully concealed truth about renewables. Those solar panels so precious to the you-must-conform greenshirts are a particularly nasty environmental menace.

“The state, once known for its plentiful, cheap and reliable energy supplies, is now dealing with rolling blackouts as its green energy infrastructure buckles under the strain of summer heat,” we said Thursday, because the wind sometimes refuses to blow and the sun isn’t always shining, not even in California.

Of course a few virtue-signaling commenters charged to the table in their electric vehicles to praise the virtues of renewable energy, which in California will be limited primarily to wind and solar. Hydro sources, responsible for more than 12% of the state’s electricity, won’t be included in the portfolio in 2045, the year power is to be by decree generated by renewables only. Other renewables, such as geothermal, maybe 5%, and biomass, not much more than 2%, provide such minute portions of California electricity they are hardly worth mentioning.

Left out of the often mistaken, never in doubt assertions of renewables’ unalloyed goodness is the fact that the hardware used is hardly renewable. It wears out and needs to be replaced. Then what?

“The problem of solar panel disposal ‘will explode with full force in two or three decades and wreck the environment’ because it ‘is a huge amount of waste and they are not easy to recycle,’” writes energy analyst Michael Shellenberger, quoting a Chinese recycling official.

In his 2018 Forbes column headlined “If Solar Panels Are So Clean, Why Do They Produce So Much Toxic Waste?” Shellenberger also quotes a four-decade veteran of America’s solar industry, who said “the reality is that there is a problem now, and it’s only going to get larger, expanding as rapidly as the PV industry expanded 10 years ago”; and researchers from the Institute for Photovoltaics in Stuttgart, Germany, who found that “contrary to previous assumptions, pollutants such as lead or carcinogenic cadmium can be almost completely washed out of the fragments of solar modules over a period of several months, for example by rainwater.”

More recently, Hazardous Waste Experts reported worn-out solar panels are “a potent source of hazardous waste,” producing a “dilemma” that “is especially virulent in California, Oregon, and Washington, as those states started adopting solar energy earliest in the game – suggesting that eco-virtue mightn’t necessarily be its own reward.”

And just as solar and wind chew up immense tracts of real estate, so, too, will the retirement of solar energy’s constituent parts.

“If solar and nuclear produce the same amount of electricity over the next 25 years that nuclear produced in 2016, and the wastes are stacked on football fields, the nuclear waste would reach the height of the Leaning Tower of Pisa (52 meters), while the solar waste would reach the height of two Mt. Everests (16 km),” says Environmental Progress, which also tells us that “solar panels create 300 times more toxic waste per unit of energy than do nuclear power plants.”

Here’s more:

While nuclear waste is contained in heavy drums and regularly monitored, solar waste outside of Europe today ends up in the larger global stream of electronic waste. 

Solar panels contain toxic metals like lead, which can damage the nervous system, as well as cadmium, a known carcinogen. Both are known to leach out of existing e-waste dumps into drinking water supplies.

Even Grist, a magazine that is surely read out loud in late-evening group sessions at Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s congressional office, notes “solar panels are starting to die” and ponders “what will we do with the megatons of toxic trash.”

The environmental risk of renewables isn’t limited to solar, either. Those monstrous sails that spin on view-spoiling, bird-killing windmills have to be retired, too.

“Researchers estimate the U.S. will have more than 720,000 tons of blade material to dispose of over the next 20 years, a figure that doesn’t include newer, taller higher-capacity versions,” National Public Radio reported last year. 

“It’s a waste problem that runs counter to what the industry is held up to be: a perfect solution for environmentalists looking to combat climate change.”

Of course we haven’t even touched on the environmental damage caused by renewables before they’ve even produced a single watt of energy. We’ll cover that later. For now we’ll let stand as our argument the comment left by energy consultant Ronald Stein, who helpfully pointed out that much of the raw material used to build our “clean” energy equipment “comes from foreign countries” that mine “with no environmental regulations,” which leads “to unrecoverable environmental degradations.”

Clean energy sure is a dirty business.

— Written by the I&I Editorial Board

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I & I Editorial Board

The Issues and Insights Editorial Board has decades of experience in journalism, commentary and public policy.


  • The “environmental” movement has brought nothing but harm to this planet (fires, slaughter of birds, destroying ocean fishing fields plus toxic equipment). It has far reaches, almost all bad. Give us oil, clean coal, and hydro and we will have a better and more prosperous world.

  • The Left always puts ideology before reality. There may be too little wind or too much wind or not enough sunshine but the ‘Green New Deal’ Leftists don’t care:
    1) About California’s Rolling Blackouts Stephen Berberich, president of the California Independent System Operator [CAISO], which runs the state grid said: “if the wind hadn’t run out on us, we would have been okay.”
    2) Telegraph UK – Jun 14, 2011 “Wind turbines will have to be switched off 38 days every year because it is too windy, the National Grid said yesterday.”
    3) (Solar in Germany has 252 days of sunshine in the average year to generate power).
    Bloomberg – Oct 10, 2019 · As a result, Germany has built up quite a position in wind. Last year, according to BloombergNEF, it generated about 17% of its energy from wind and only 7% from solar …”.
    4) Berliner Zeitung
    “Germany plans to stop building new wind farms by 2019, gradually turning away from its $1.1 trillion wind power program”.

  • A bit over 20 years ago, huge wind farm install south of us. Units now being replaced. Can anyone find the actual cost of a windmill? Can they produce enough to pay for themselves?

    • In the USA there are no wind or solar installations that are economically viable without the tax credits.

  • This stupid propaganda article fails (as all of the fossil shills do) to take into account the cost of fossil fuels to health outcomes and to deal with climate change. Its simply not true that fossil fuel power is cheap, its horribly expensive if the externalities are taken into account. Solar and wind will win…its game over.

    • “its horribly expensive if the externalities are taken into account” How about all of the toxic waste “externalities” associated with wind and solar? Did you actually even read (and comprehend) the article or did you just reflexively start typing the usual “stupid fossil propaganda” response that you probably use for any article critical of wind/solar?

  • Using some very generous assumptions, I found that replacing the average daily use of gasoline in the US with solar electricity would require over 250,000 sq mi of solar panels. That is 160,000,000 acres. Along with the environmental damage caused by manufacturing these panels, has anyone considered the effect of covering this much ground with reflective panels?

  • Hmmm it’s almost as if this whole “clean energy” thing has absolutely nothing to do with the environment and everything to do with wanting to enrich the elite Democrat donors who are invested in that sector while punishing the oil industry that predominantly donates to Republicans.

    Always follow the money.

  • This is only the last half of the equation. It requires making numerous gigantic holes in the Earth with gigantic mining equipment to produce the raw materials (silica, copper, iron, molybdenum, cadmium, lead, zinc, REE, gold, silver, etc.) that must be ripped from the ore deposits, refined, manufactured, and then transported to its operational site. If you believe in “alternative” energy, then you must also believe in mining.

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