Because solar panels can’t be economically recycled, millions upon millions of them are headed for landfill. Around the globe, countless millions of panels have already reached their use by dates. Over the next decade millions of tonnes of them are headed for the dump.
Each panel is a veritable toxic cocktail of gallium arsenide, tellurium, silver, crystalline silicon, lead, cadmium and other heavy metals. As the stuff leeches into the water table, it’s not difficult to imagine the effect on water supplies, the environment and human health.
In March 2019, the Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors granted sPower, a Utah-based developer of industrial solar facilities, a Special Use Permit (SUP) to construct a 6,300-acre solar factory on land lying just outside Fredericksburg.
This massive facility—dubbed the “Spotsylvania Solar Energy Center”—is one of the largest in the U.S., and by far the largest such facility east of the Mississippi River. When it is finished, it will contain over 1.5 million solar panels, each weighing about 40 pounds, and all of them containing toxic chemicals, such as cadmium telluride, copper sellenide, and lead.
The removal and disposition of these panels will be a monumental task, one that is even more complex and challenging than the original installation itself.
In short, what Spotsylvania is facing is a potential Superfund cleanup site a few decades from now, with no cash money in escrow to finance the operation. sPower has not provided any financial assurance, as required by law, and the county is left with a bare promise that some entity owning the facility 30 years from now will comply with the decommissioning obligation, which raises the clear specter of protracted negotiation and litigation.