Grant F. Smith, IRmep: Great discussion on recycling the equipment. One of the lead companies manufacturing solar panels is First Solar, it has gotten about 1.4 billion dollars in [federal] loans to build a site in California, another $3 billion in federal funds to build three powerplants. It has Development Finance Corporation money, $500 million, to build panels overseas.
This company is using a technology called cadmium telluride which is cheaper than poly silicon, although only about 5% of the market right now. They are facing a lot of opposition because they don’t want to commit to recycling their panels. For example, at the foot of the beautiful Endless Caverns in Virginia, they [Israeli company Energix Renewable Energies] proposed to bring in about 2.7 tons of toxic cadmium in their panels, but they don’t have a plan to decommission that through recycling.
At another site in Virginia, the Hickory solar farm, they propose for that 32 megawatt site which would have 2.8 tons of toxic cadmium, just to sell them on eBay.
These panels are not household waste. They have to be recycled to get those toxic elements out of them. I am just wondering — I’m assuming your group is supported by First Solar, you can confirm that or not. I’m just wondering if you support the mandatory pre-licensing commitment through a contract to recycle cadmium telluride solar panels before they are put up over a site. By the way, cadmium is a byproduct of zinc mining. It is a toxic waste that is being suspended all over America with no plans to recycle it.
Bob Keefe, Environmental Entrepreneurs
Thanks for that, and a great point. For starters, no, we don’t get money from First Solar, we don’t get money from any corporation. Our members are individuals, not companies. To your other caller earlier, I don’t have stock in any of these companies. I don’t speak for companies, industry, etc. My work is about trying to make this planet a little bit better. The only stockholders I have are three little girls named Delaney, Grace, Carley, my daughters.
We are a nonprofit organization of individuals not companies. I am not familiar with the First Solar issue, to tell you the truth. But yes, we need to do more to ensure that these products get recycled. We need to be sure that we learn the lessons from past energy transitions. We now know it is a bad idea to keep burning fossil fuels. We know it’s a bad idea to walk away from fracking rigs and leave the mess behind for future generations to clean up. We know it’s a bad idea to leave behind solar panels that cannot be recycled or batteries that cannot be recycled or wind turbine blades that need to be recycled.
We need to do all of that. But we also have to address the existential problem of our time, which is climate change, and to do that, we have to move to cleaner energy in this country.