The darker side of solar power – by Konrad Yakabuski (Globe and Mail – May 28, 2015)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

The Saudi Arabian oil minister’s recent comment that the world’s largest petroleum producer sees a postfossil-fuel world in which his country becomes a solar-power superpower must have comforted climate activists that even the worst offenders can come around. After all, what could be more redemptive than turning abandoned oil fields into solar farms?

Solar power’s image as “clean” and “limitless” has led princes and politicians alike to dole out huge subsidies to bask in its glow. Under the 2009 Green Energy Act, Ontario agreed to pay solar power operators as much as 10 times the market rate for the electricity they produce under 20-year contracts.

Not satisfied with risk-free deals that will make many solar players rich at consumers’ expense, Ontario’s solar industry is now lobbying for even more. And it’s leveraging solar’s apple-pie image to press politicians into giving it what it wants.

On Tuesday, the Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA) released a poll purporting to show that three-quarters of Ontarians “would like to see the government invest more in solar powered electricity and in technologies that enable solar power.” The same proportion apparently supports reserving revenue from Ontario’s proposed cap-and-trade scheme for more solar power and related technologies.

The folks at CanSIA are no fools. They hired the chief strategist behind Premier Kathleen Wynne’s 2014 re-election to do their polling. And David Herle put just the right spin on the results, saying, “Those who voted Wynne’s Liberals into power are looking to government to pursue opportunities presented by the solar industry.”

It’s not clear if these voters would be as gung-ho about solar power, however, if they considered the environmental implications of its expansion. The industry doesn’t talk much, or at all, about the downsides of manufacturing solar panels or where all these panels will end up when they conk out. Think of how much toxic waste is generated by consumer electronics and you get a small inkling of what a world lit with solar power, and the batteries needed to store their energy, might look like.

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