Thursday, October 19, 2023

Unveiling the Hidden Costs of Renewable Technologies

The global push for renewable energy sources such as solar panels and wind turbines has been celebrated as a significant step toward a cleaner, greener future. While these technologies are hailed for their potential environmental benefits, there’s a dark side to their production that often remains hidden from view. From the cobalt mines of Africa to the rainforests where balsa trees are felled, the environmental and human costs associated with renewable technologies are a stark reminder that not all that glitters is green.

To understand the hidden price of renewable technologies, let’s first explore how solar panels and wind turbines are created. Solar panels are primarily made of photovoltaic (PV) cells, typically constructed using silicon, a widely available element. However, the production of PV cells also relies heavily on rare and precious metals, most notably cobalt. Cobalt is an essential component in the production of batteries, which are used in solar energy storage systems and electric vehicles. The majority of the world’s cobalt supply comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in Africa, where cobalt mines are often run by unscrupulous entities with little regard for safety or environmental regulations.

 

Workers, including children, toil under hazardous conditions, often without protective gear. Their exposure to toxic chemicals and unsafe mining practices puts their health and lives at risk. One of the most troubling aspects of cobalt mining in the DRC is the presence of slave labor and child exploitation. These unethical practices persist due to a lack of oversight and the desperate economic circumstances of the local population. The demand for cobalt in the renewable energy and tech industries has only exacerbated this issue. Human rights organizations and investigative journalists have shed light on the inhumane conditions faced by miners, including forced labor, abysmal wages, and dangerous work environments. Tragically, many of the miners and their families have no alternative means of income, trapping them in a cycle of exploitation and poverty.

 

On the other side of the renewable technology spectrum, the production of wind turbines has its own environmental cost. Wind turbine blades are made from a composite material that often includes balsa wood, a lightweight and durable material. The demand for balsa wood has led to extensive deforestation in countries like Ecuador and Papua New Guinea, where balsa trees grow in lush rainforests. The destruction of rainforests for balsa wood extraction not only contributes to biodiversity loss, but also disrupts local ecosystems and the livelihoods of indigenous communities. Moreover, the removal of these critical carbon sinks exacerbates environmental challenges.

 

Beyond their production, the disposal of solar panels and wind turbines also poses environmental challenges. These technologies have a finite lifespan, typically ranging from 20 to 30 years. When they reach the end of their usable life, they become electronic waste or e-waste. The disposal of solar panels and wind turbines is far from eco-friendly. Many of the materials used in their construction, including rare earth metals and toxic chemicals, can leach into the environment if not properly managed. Recycling and disposal methods for these technologies must be improved to prevent long-term environmental damage.

 

We must not turn a blind eye to the hidden costs of these technologies. As consumers, investors, and advocates for sustainability, we have a responsibility to demand transparency and ethical practices from the renewable energy industry. Efforts to improve supply chain traceability, uphold human rights, and protect natural habitats are essential components of a truly sustainable green energy future.

 

By addressing these issues head-on, we can ensure that the promise of renewable technologies is not overshadowed by their dark side, and that our pursuit of a greener world benefits both the planet and its people. It’s crucial to remember that while renewable technologies offer a path to a more sustainable future, they are not without their challenges. Awareness and responsible action are key as we navigate the complex terrain of renewable energy and work toward a world where both our environment and our fellow humans are treated with the respect and care they deserve.

 

We publish commentary and opinion pieces from voluntary contributors, as well as news updates and event notices from area organizations. Contributors include veteran local writers, historians, naturalists, and outdoor enthusiasts from around the Adirondack region. The information, views and opinions expressed by these various authors are not necessarily those of the Adirondack Almanack or its publisher, the Adirondack Explorer.

 

Photo at top courtesy of Jackie Woodcock.

 

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Jackie Woodcock was born and lives in the Adirondack Mountains. She is an apiarist, lepidopterist, conservationist, teacher, writer, artist, and a co-owner of SkyLyfeADK. You can find her SkyLyfeADK on Instagram and Facebook.




49 Responses

  1. Nick Ustaszewski says:

    I congratulate Jackie Woodcock for having the intelligence to publish an article like this in today’s environment of green energy madness and the rush to incorporate it into our everyday life. While I feel that solar and wind power definitely have a place in our present and future energy needs, I have been dismayed by the rush to incorporate it into use with no mention of many of the drawbacks of the current technology. The tremendous amounts of government money (actually taxpayer money) being offered to the green energy companies, many of them foreign owned, encourage these companies to forego any mention of the drawbacks to green energy. Ms. Woodcock mentions some of the environmental impacts that green energy production create and I wonder how many of us would be willing to allow mineral mining or deforestation in our own locales by in return for green energy, and if so, how much. Remember, all energy production is a tradeoff. I would also point out the vast amounts of space required for sufficient solar panels and wind turbines to generate the amount of energy we will require in the future, especially as our government regulations phase out oil and gas produced energy.
    As the saying goes, “You can build windmills with steel, but you can’t make steel with windmills”. Maybe sometime in the future, but not in the foreseeable future. Green energy is a great supplement to our energy needs, but rushing into it’s use before it is truly practical is foolish and dangerous in my opinion.

    • Jackie Woodcock says:

      Thank you for reading my article and for the kind comment! I appreciate your time and support. Its the old addage, out of sight out of mind so I thought perhaps shining the light on these issues was important.
      Have a great weekend

  2. Zachary Denton says:

    Awesome article and full of great information. I applaud you for having the courage to write this. This is such and important aspect of the discussion that can’t be missed.

    • Jackie Woodcock says:

      Thank you for taking the time to read my article! I refuse to be blind to what I believe is hypocrisy, especially when it comes at such a great price. I appreciate your encouraging comment and support!
      Have a great weekend!

  3. Jackie Woodcock says:

    Thank you for reading my article and for the kind comment! I appreciate your time and support. Its the old addage, out of sight out of mind so I thought perhaps shining the light on these issues was important.
    Have a great weekend

  4. Paul Kietzman says:

    … or .., we consider maximizing hydro on existing dams in the State (and elsewhere) as did every Adirondacker starting 150 years ago. In stream installations are also being innovated pretty much everywhere else that has flowing water. Accommodations for spawning fish are integral. Natel Energy in CA is a leader. Apologies for this being the only song I can remember when renewables comes up.

    • Paul Kietzman says:

      Jackie: should have also said that your post was excellent and informative. Thanks for raising and framing extremely significant and complex matters!

  5. Alan Reno says:

    Ooooh.. those evil green energy companies! My father has memories of the big investment his grandmother & their neighbors had to make in the 1940s when forced to convert from coal for heat to natural gas. Would any reader here argue such as transition was misguided?

  6. RH says:

    Not to mention the number of birds and bats killed by wind turbines. We are at the place that we were when coal and then natural gas were first used: we only see the good and ignore the bad. Wind and solar need to be just as regulated as coal and gas.
    Not to mention, why not geothermal?

  7. Kevin Hickey says:

    We have to stop mandating green energy and allow science, technology and the economy develop it on a more rational timeline. You can’t just throw fossil fuels down the toilet without serious consequences.

  8. Robert DiMarco says:

    I wish the problem of 8 Billion Humans and counting was addressed when we talk about our issues. How can we continue to grow our population and somehow save Earth at the same time?

  9. Mark says:

    It took some “stones” to publish this article. Good for you, Jackie!

  10. Annette Scheuer says:

    Thank you for this! Citizens, politicians, environmentalists, and all of us who favor the transition away from fossil fuels must include these realities in the renewable energy
    discussion. There are environmental and moral ramifications to anything we do. We have to understand the larger picture and consider the net cost and benefit of these “green” technologies. That being said, I firmly believe many of these efforts, unfortunately, will be in vain, because let’s face it – the real problem is overpopulation. The demand for energy and food and water keeps increasing. The rate of human reproduction is in itself unsustainable. I don’t have the answer to that problem.

  11. Boreas says:

    A great article exposing the all-to-often ignored consequences of some “green” energy options. As major “power brokers” migrate away from fossil fuels to alternative sources, the same smoke and mirror deceptions have been employed downplaying long-term repercussions of these devices and their impact on the environment. What can work quite well in one part of the country often doesn’t perform nearly as well in a different area. In my opinion, billing these devices as “saviors” is misleading at best, and could be disastrous long-term. We know plastics are a plague upon the land and waters, yet many of these devices are “plastic-heavy” – meaning they use petrochemicals to produce and are rarely recyclable. And the mining of rare-earth materials is another geopolitical hot potato.

    I would rather see energy REDUCTION as the keystone in our energy crisis, not finding more ways to increase energy production and use – giving us a “feel-good” attitude so we can continue to waste any energy we have available to us.

  12. An Adirondack Resident says:

    I think this article is spot on. We should continue to work towards more “renewable” or less polluting energy sources but the fact is that huge strides have been made in the US. The air is much cleaner now than 50 years ago.

    We have to look at the total economic and environmental cost of transitioning. Even IF there is a climate problem, and IF reduction in fossil fuel use will have much of an impact, unilateral action by the US and a few other countries is not going to solve it, and It does no good to destroy our economy and by extension national security in the process. People have to be able to afford food, housing, and other necessities. The cost of energy is a major factor in the cost of everything. Destroying the middle class is not a solution.

    As far as population statistically population is falling in many places around the world. It would be falling more in the USA if not for millions of people illegally crossing our border.

    • Annette Scheuer says:

      This has nothing to do with immigration, but nice political deflection attempt. The woes of the middle class and the (comparatively to other wealthy democracies) lousy American quality of life are topics for an entirely different discussion, and believe me immigration has zero to do with it. The world’s population is indeed increasing, and the highest birth rates are among the poorest, most oppressive, least educated societies where women living in deserts are forced to bear numerous children they cannot feed. In America, our “exceptional” values are great contributors to excessive consumption and waste, but let’s not digress too much, shall we?

  13. Randy Woessner says:

    Green Energy is the future. As costs continue to drop and new battery technologies become available this will only make these technologies more attractive.
    The causes of climate change must be reversed if the planet is to survive. Agreed, there is a cost for manufacture and recycling of these products. We must stay vigilant in our assessment of these risks. There is a great deal of misinformation that is being spread promoting fake issues. Large energy corporations must be prevented from “capturing and killing” these advances in technologies also.
    I would also like to see NY State Colleges offer courses in these subjects especially Adirondak CC.

    • Annette Scheuer says:

      Thank you I agree. We should definitely be advancing these technologies and hopefully education and research will continue to make them more affordable, more accessible, and as ethical as possible.

  14. An Adirondack Resident says:

    Definitely offer courses, but make sure that the curriculum is an objective study of the technology rather than pushing a ‘climate emergency’ agenda. All legitimate studies and data for both the degree of, causes of, and effects of climate change as well as the true costs/benefits of current alternative energy solutions should be reviewed.

    • JohnL says:

      Objective study of the technology of global warming, er, climate change. You’re kidding, right? They teach to where the money comes from, and at present, the money flows FREELY to those supporting radical Climate Emergency Technology. It sounds good (objective study) though.

      • Annette Scheuer says:

        Oh please. And money doesn’t “flow FREELY” from the oil and coal industries into the pockets of conservative politicians (and universities by the way!) to block progress in alternative energy research? We need to get off the “evil liberal academic elite woke indoctrination’ conspiracy crack. It’s getting old and makes us more of a laughing stock every day that it continues. I guess a better solution is less education, book banning.

        • Mike says:

          Oh please, democrats dont invest or take money from big fossil fuel? Which isn’t fossils at all. How quickly you have forgotten Solyndra as well. If it wasn’t for crooked politicians we would have fusion and hydrogen by now.

          • Annette Scheuer says:

            I agree. The 2 party system is 2 sides of the same coin that is beholden to the donor class. Both sides take money, and the donor class absolutely gives to both sides. That is a bigger problem with a corrupt, money-driven political system where corporations (including in the energy industry) are “people” with no limits on campaign funding. I’d like to see multiple parties, campaign funding limits, and for a citizen not to have to be a multi-millionaire just to be able to even consider running for office. Only then will the voice of the actual “people” be heard. We are a corporatocracy right now, not a democracy. For the record, I am also in favor of considering new clean nuclear technology.

  15. Smitty says:

    Maybe we’ll intentioned in this case but I suspect that much of the hand-wringing over possible problems with sustainable energy has more to do with derailing or slowing the necessary transition. For sure there are some potential trade offs but how about the ancillary problems with coal mining and oil and gas production. These are all problems that must be dealt with. But don’t let them keep us from the necessary path forward away from fossil fuels.

  16. Pat Smith says:

    I recently attended a presentation by Dennis Higgins and Keith Schue. Both gentlemen are committed to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. They do, however, point out how unrealistic NY states climate plan is. By relying on underperforming, intermittent forms of generation (wind & solar) the state’s plan ensures NY will continue to burn fossil fuels while sacrificing massive amounts of farmland, woods and open spaces. Close to 400,000 total acres of solar arrays and 1 new on shore plus 1 new off shore wind turbine will need to be built every 5 days for the next 20-30 years to try to reach the state’s goal.
    NY residents and businesses will see higher electric rates, energy shortages and blackouts. From NYISO Power Trends 2023 “Increasing levels of intermittent generation combined with increasing demand are expected to result in at least 17,000MW of existing fossil fuel generating capacity which must be retained to continue to reliably serve forecasted peak demand days in 2030.”
    Executive Law 94-c grants the Office of Renewable Energy Siting the authority to override local laws, despite the guarantees of Home Rule in the state constitution. The state even created a reduced property valuation for renewable energy projects, which robs communities of tax revenue.
    Communities are coming together to fight to save rural New York from energy sprawl. Contact:
    stopenergysprawl@gmail.com
    to learn more and become involved.

  17. An Adirondack Resident says:

    Except for a very small minority of people who are heavily invested or make a living from the fossil fuel industry, no one objects in principle to moving away from non-renewable and/or polluting technologies, regardless of whether they believe in the ‘climate emergency’ hype or not. What most people object to is being forced to use and pay for (either directly or through tax dollars) technologies that are not a one size fits all solution and/or are not yet perfected enough, at a pace that is not economically sustainable. Too many people are struggling just to pay for basic necessities. If the rich elites want to fund these technologies and be early adopters that is fine, but it should not fall on the backs of the working people least available to afford it.

  18. ADKresident2 says:

    Fueling green energy/change haters/fossil fuel lovers furthers unproductive resistance to an unquestionably necessary climate-driven change in business as usual. That was not the intention here it doesn’t appear, but you see how articles like this can be twisted to fit one’s own agenda.

  19. Rh says:

    I think unilateral approaches will hurt everyone. Green energy and sustainability without regard for reality will cause more issues. I am very liberal but cannot understand doing away with natural gas and properly emissions controlled fossil fuels used judiciously.

  20. ANDREW MIRONCHUK says:

    Thank you for your article to point out the cautions, consience and guilt that come with progress for the sake of progress without responsible development. To answer the questions of sustainability, green, clean, ethics and morals we have only to look to the past. We are a greener, cleaner and healthier planet than we were, and than we would be now, if the green revolution had not yet begun. I have to believe that worlds of science and invention will continue to explore alternatives. There will be a better, safer, more ethical, sustainable power source in the future. Looking to the past I remember black and white tube TV’s, vinyl records and turntables, 8 track tapes, cassettes, cds and cd players, and land phone lines, all of which are now obsolete because they have been replaced by better technology.

  21. Jackie Woodcock says:

    I truly appreciate you all! I respect your opinions even if they differ from mine. What makes us amazing are our unique qualities. It’s nice to see that we can voice our opinions in a decent way, however I would say the idea of debating is slowly being choked off by people who think their thoughts, feeling and ideas are more important than anyone else’s. I have never called for anyone to be silenced as I don’t appreciate it myself. Censorship is very self motivated and that will never be my intention or stance. If you believe in a cause, stand until you can’t stand anymore! I’m very appreciative that any of your were willing to read my article and comment, it’s always a vulnerable position to put yourself out in front of the public through the written word and I’m thankful for this platform for honoring free speech and critical thinking. Have a great weekend everyone!

  22. Robert DiMarco says:

    Omg!!!!!! All I see in these comments is except for one comment no one willing to sacrifice a bit for the betterment of the Future of Earth. Sad commentary of the Human Race.

    • Pat Smith says:

      It’s not that people are not willing to address climate change. They are unwilling to buy into a plan that will consume hundreds of thousands of acres of land, destroy farmland and wildlife habitat and in the end will do little or nothing to end our use of fossil fuels. If you truly live a Western lifestyle, you value independence and your constitutional rights. New York state has usurped the home rule of towns through ORES and is taking away our rights to choose what basic necessities work best for each individual and their lifestyle.

      • Paul Kietzman says:

        Insofar as State statutes may “depower” local governments, let’s also not forget that Adirondack municipalities encompassing State lands are pretty beholden to Albany for the calculation, appropriation and payment of PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes), as well as school aid to keep local schools in business and keep young families from leaving.

        • Pat Smith says:

          PILOT agreements benefit the counties, school districts and to a lesser extent, the local town/village. The Office of Renewable Energy Siting can circumvent any town law they consider “overly burdensome” to a proposed project. ORES has also taken over the SEQRA process. 94c has effectively stripped away the right of home rule from municipalities.

  23. An Adirondack Resident says:

    Most people are willing to sacrifice “a bit.” This is a lot different than paying twice as much for an electric vehicle and then having to stop for hours every couple hundred miles on a trip to recharge, or being forced to spend thousands to replace a perfectly good oil or gas furnace with a heat pump or a gas stove with an electric stove, paying twice as much for food and necessities because the cost of transportation has skyrocketed due the attack on fossil fuels, or any number of other things that are way more than “a bit.”

    I typically spend many many hours hanging wash on a line to dry whenever possible instead of putting it in the dryer. I avoid multiple trips to town even though it is a big inconvenience to wait, and do any number of other things. Many people do these things. It’s way more than “a bit.”

    • Robert DiMarco says:

      I am one person. Who lives the western lifestyle. I try to do my part as you do. But its not near enough. There will be a reckoning in the future and the bit of sacrifice you mention isnt going to be enough. i wish I felt differently but felt like this since I was a youngster of 8 or 9 yrs of age. When we finally realize that Humans are just one form of life on this planet and that we arent any more important than any other life form then maybe there is a future

  24. louis curth says:

    “Unveiling the Hidden Costs° could be a theme song for our times as we try to sort fact from fiction about climate change and renewable technology. If we manage to accomplish that difficult task, then we must go further to try to unveil the long term costs of taking decisive action now, or deferring action and letting those we leave behind deal with whatever those “hidden costs” may be. Let’s be clear – we are talking about our children, our grandchildren, and all the future generations of life forms on earth!

    Sad to say, our corporate elites seem to be quite content to promote lies, misinformation and confusion, as long as the profits keep on rolling in. Meanwhile, nefarious dark money continues to corrupt a political class that no longer seems capable of governing in a democracy, much less working together to help the people in their time of need.

    Knowing the hidden costs may help show us a better way forward.

  25. LP resident says:

    The stone age didn’t end because they ran out of stones
    Every mountain in the Adirondacks should have several wind turbines
    I have walked past many wind turbines and never seen a dead bird
    search it online and it shows a single bird here and there
    Birds avoid stuff unless its moving towards the bird at 500 MPH like a jet
    when I see a wind turbine in the distance it empowers me
    I agree that we need to improve the way we source new components for a greener world.

  26. Randall Woessner says:

    The “dead bird” issue is just a scare tactic. Same with the offshore vibration issue hurting whales. The problem is politicians, and the fossil fuel industry. They are creating scare tactic and change can be is scary.
    Also, people are scared of losing their jobs. Think of all the whalers that got put out of work with the invention of kerosene.

  27. Linda Ramirez says:

    It’s very educational to read Jackie’s article and the comments. We’re generally living a life style that is characterized by consumption and waste and I include myself. That said. we really need an all hands on deck approach to these issues.

    For those of us who are older, the climate crisis might not have as much consequence but it will be for our children and their children. Keeping an open mind is where it is at.

    https://www.wbur.org/cognoscenti/2023/10/03/1-5-degrees-celcius-un-climate-change-report-barbara-moran

  28. Raymond Budnick says:

    LOVE the truth within this article.

    Thank You, Thank You, Thank You.

    Let’s get to where we need to go guided by truth’s, and never again turn a blind eye toward the effects of any technology, new or old.

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