Solar Farms Run Into Problems With Water Pollution

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Solar Farms Run Into Problems With Water Pollution

Post by SAm S »

The construction of four solar farms in the US violated the Clean Water Act, showcasing the challenges of building a clean power grid.

The US Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Justice announced more than a million dollars in penalties against companies for polluting local waterways. The culprits? Four solar farms in Illinois, Alabama, and Idaho.

Each of the large-scale solar projects, which shared a common contractor, violated construction permits and mismanaged storm water controls, causing harmful buildup of sediment in waterways.

As private companies race to build renewable capability, the EPA’s case with the four solar farms illustrates a central challenge: While gleaning energy from the sun might be a panacea to overconsumption of fossil fuels, building a clean power grid that can harness solar energy is often more complicated.

Most solar panels used in the US today start out as sand.

Building and recycling solar panels

Scientists purify the grains into almost pure crystalline silicon, but the process requires a large amount of electricity.

Almost 80 percent of a solar panel’s carbon footprint can come from this purification process alone, according to Annick Anctil, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Michigan State University.

“Where that electricity is coming from is really important,” Anctil says.

“If you’re making solar panels in a place where electricity uses coal or natural gas, that makes your solar panels not as green as if you’re able to produce it from solar energy.”
Solar panels are built to last about 30 years. At the end of their lifecycle, installers can either throw them into a landfill or recycle them, but there isn’t much infrastructure for reusing the materials in the panels since the industry is new. 

Grading land for solar farms

Solar panels are easier and cheaper to install on leveled ground, which often requires companies to mow down trees and local vegetation.

Leveling, or grading, the land can lead to soil erosion and eventually sediment runoff, where storms force eroded soil to travel downhill, sometimes into waterways.

Too much soil in bodies of water can disrupt local ecosystems, hurt the plants and animals that live in them, and damage drinking water treatment systems.


The four solar farms that violated the Clean Water Act are all subsidiaries of international finance and investment companies.

But Mulvaney argues that what’s even worse are inexperienced solar developers that build a single arm and then soon disband.

He’s seen “quite a few projects” handed to these temporary companies.

“When you have these entities that do one-offs and then vaporize, there’s absolutely no accountability at all,” he says.

You can read the entire story HERE: ... iolations/
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