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We have written before about the PR problems haunting solar power and we received yet another reminder of that ongoing issue in the form of a troubling Los Angeles Times article by Tiffany Hsu titled, “The dark side of solar and wind power projects." We won’t address the specifics about wind power projects since that is outside of our expertise, but the overall tone of the piece and some specific comments about solar demand a response.
One problem we have are the recurring quotations from industry opponents, such as the quote “One of these days, a turbine’s going to fall on someone,” attributed to the executive director of an industry “watchdog” organization called the Industrial Wind Action Group. Yet according to the Group’s website:
Industrial Wind Action was formed to counteract the misleading information promulgated by the wind energy industry and various environmental groups. Support for this effort comes from a large and diversified group of environmentalists, energy experts, and ordinary citizens.
None of that “large and diversified group” is identified on the website.
Much of what is mentioned in the article is provided with no citations at all. Here’s one particularly egregious example: “The complicated wiring under solar panels has left some firefighters so bewildered that they have allowed residential rooftops to burn." Really? Where and when did that happen? Hard to refute scary stories that appear without citation. Not great journalism, either.
The article continues:
Panel parts can also be flammable or prone to melting, or torn off in storms or cracked by hail, testing experts said.
Prone to melting? We decommissioned a solar power system that had been in use in Furnace Creek - you know, Death Valley, just the hottest place in the United States - and while their performance had degraded over time, none of them had demonstrated melting. (The online version of the article includes a video taken at a UL lab where solar panels are put through extremes that would never be seen on a residential roof. Yet no such qualification is included in the article itself.)
Solar panels are not generally flammable (that is why they are given a Class-C fire rating) and when installed by a competent installer (think NABCEP certified) will not be torn off your roof in a storm. (Tornadoes excluded!) And as for being cracked by hail, well the Solar Kid “exploded” that myth months ago:
Then, finally, there is the tragic issue of injuries. Energy generation is a complicated enterprise and there exists a significant element of danger when you concentrate lots of power in a relatively small space. Toss in the need to be working at heights - often a component of residential solar installations - and the possibility of injury or even death is always present. Solar installers who are NABCEP certified have demonstrated their knowledge of the safety rules and best practices that accompany working in this area. As consumers become better informed about how to differentiate one solar installer from another, the emphasis on such certification will certainly grow, and that will be good for consumers and workers alike.
But sadly missing from this article is any attempt at balance about the safety issues surrounding other energy generation systems. After all:
Every industry - including the renewable energy industry - needs to be self critical, to learn from its mistakes and constantly strive to improve its safety performance. But “dark” stories masquerading as journalism don’t help that process, and readers of the L.A. Times deserve better.