A Closer Look: Solar Recycling - Part 1

Published: Jul. 1, 2022 at 1:08 PM EDT
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You may have noticed more and more solar farms popping up recently, but what happens to those solar panels when they reach the end of their lifespan? In the first part of our series on Solar Energy, Brian Bouchard looks at the solar boom and solar panel recycling.

“Right now we have so many important issues in front of us, mostly climate change and how are we going to cost effectively reduce our dependence on oil and gas” - William Harwood – Public Advocate, Office of the Public Advocate

Despite being invented in the 1800′s, solar panels have only really become popular in the last 20 to 30 years. Governor Janet Mills has set renewable energy requirements for the state to receive 80% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. In what is being regarded as a “Solar Boom” the State of Maine has seen up to 200 solar projects either be developed, or in the planning stages so far this year. Some are for personal use, like getting off the grid, some are groups of investors seeking to cash in on energy credits provided by the state, but regardless of who they support, or what the concept of use is the panel is for, they all have one thing in common. Solar panels have a 20 to 25 year life span.

“You’re seeing the solar boom now and to actually get enough energy from solar and wind combined, we’re going to need thousands and thousands of wind turbines but then again we’re going to need millions and millions of solar panels and when you think about that you think about the waste from that.” - Rep Beth O’Connor – (R) House District 5

Beth O’Connor is the soon to be retired Representative for Maine House District 5 in Berwick. After seeing a flood of solar projects being proposed, along with the Governors goals of going green. O’Connor looked into a component of Solar Panels that isn’t exactly environmentally friendly.

“I don’t know if you’re aware of recycling across the country for solar panels, but most of them are being burned as we speak, you can recycle some of the materials in it, you can probably get anywhere from 3 to 12 dollars worth of materials from each panel, but its cost prohibitive, that’s why they’re burned.”

According to O’Connor, the first generation of widespread commercial solar panels are just now meeting the end of their lifespan, and in the state’s rush to meet clean energy goals, there aren’t any regulations regarding the disposal of the solar cells once they’ve served their purpose.

In the second part of this series, we’ll look at efforts taken by O’Connor to help establish a solar panel recycling initiative in the state. We will also check in with public figures from various Environmental and Energy offices to see how concerning of an issue this is.

Brian Bouchard, NewsSource8

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