March 9, 2008

Toxic Green

The Washington Post today examines the pollution costs of solar cell production. The Chinese are literally dumping poison into fields outside their polysilicon factories, sometimes at the rate of ten truckloads a day.

With the prices of oil and coal soaring, policymakers around the world are looking at massive solar farms to heat water and generate electricity. For the past four years, however, the world has been suffering from a shortage of polysilicon -- the key component of sunlight-capturing wafers -- driving up prices of solar energy technology and creating a barrier to its adoption.

With the price of polysilicon soaring from $20 per kilogram to $300 per kilogram in the past five years, Chinese companies are eager to fill the gap...

Because of the environmental hazard, polysilicon companies in the developed world recycle the compound, putting it back into the production process. But the high investment costs and time, not to mention the enormous energy consumption required for heating the substance to more than 1800 degrees Fahrenheit for the recycling, have discouraged many factories in China from doing the same. Like Luoyang Zhonggui, other solar plants in China have not installed technology to prevent pollutants from getting into the environment...

Since the companies don't want to pay for the equipment and energy necessary to produce the product in an environmentally safe way, they dump as many as ten truckloads of the waste on the ground outside their compound each day.

Shi, chief executive of Pro-EnerTech, a start-up polysilicon research firm in Shanghai, said that there's such a severe shortage of polysilicon that the government is willing to overlook this issue for now.

"If this happened in the United States, you'd probably be arrested," he said.

The more we learn about the energy and pollution cost involved in the production of solar cells, the less "green" it looks.

Before Bill Ritter tries to push the Colorado economy down this road, before he tries to make Colorado jobs dependent on this level of pollution, he and Mark Udall need to publicly acknowledge the level of damage they and their environmentalist allies are doing to the the name of the environment.

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