Reports out of China indicate protestors are upset over pollution from a local solar panel manufacturer. The producer in question, JinkoSolar, has been accused of polluting a river as a result of runoff from the plant carrying waste laced with harmful chemicals. The New York Times reports that “residents claimed runoff from solid waste laced with fluoride improperly stored at the plant had been swept into the nearby river after heavy rainfall on Aug. 26.” Dead animals (including fish in the river and pigs nearby) were also included in the complaints. The New York Times mentions that government inspectors later found 10 times the acceptable limit of fluoride. Beacon Equity reports that JinkoSolar has closed the plant in question.
The article also points out that this is not the first instance of improper disposal, citing an April report from the Chinese News Agency. Back in the era of major timber production, waterways were often the quickest and cheapest means to dump waste. Water is still a major component of electricity generation. In the case of coal, natural gas, and nuclear power, water is used to cool down reactors and generators. While this does not equate to dumping or leaching chemicals into the water, the effluent (released water) can often be much warmer than the body into which it enters, causing damage to ecosystems. If solar power is just going to create problems on the manufacturing side, as opposed to the energy production, then there is no (or little) gain to the environment. This provides another example of how clean technology can fail. Manufacturing materials for a sustainable future cannot merely relocate pollution. Much like electric cars that run on electricity generated by fossil fuels, solar producers that pollute do not further the aims of sustainability.