March 13, 2008

The high cost of going solar

The WaPo has a great article up about how one of the inputs into the manufacture of photovoltaic cells is causing a lot of problems in China. The input is polysilicon which elsewhere in the world, where there are environmental regulations, costs $84,000 per ton to produce. In China they are doing that for $21,000 to $56,000 per ton. You can do that when you don't worry about what you do with your waste. The waste in the case of polysilicon is silicon tetrachloride which basically kills everything. Not to mention that you can recycle it to create more polysilicon, which is a large part of the increase in cost for western manufacturers.

About nine months ago, residents of Li's village, which begins about 50 yards from the plant, noticed that their crops were wilting under a dusting of white powder. Sometimes, there was a hazy cloud up to three feet high near the dumping site; one person tending crops there fainted, several villagers said. Small rocks began to accumulate in kettles used for boiling faucet water.

Each night, villagers said, the factory's chimneys released a loud whoosh of acrid air that stung their eyes and made it hard to breath. "It's poison air. Sometimes it gets so bad you can't sit outside. You have to close all the doors and windows," said Qiao Shi Peng, 28, a truck driver who said he worries about his 1-year-old son's health.

The villagers said most obvious evidence of the pollution is the dumping, up to 10 times a day, of the liquid waste into what was formerly a grassy field. Eventually, the whole area turned white, like snow.

The worst part, said Li, 53, who lives with his son and granddaughter in the village, is that "they go outside the gates of their own compound to dump waste."

"We didn't know how bad it was until the August harvest, until things started dying," he said.

Early this year, one of the villagers put some of the contaminated soil in a plastic bag and went to the local environmental bureau. They never got back to him.

Zhang Zhenguo, 45, a farmer and small businessman, said he has a theory as to why: "They didn't test it because the government supports the plant."

More and more, everyone should realize that fallacy of free trade. It's trade with with economies that will poison the environment we all share in order to make a buck. Even if it means killing themselves and us.

Posted by mcblogger at March 13, 2008 12:54 PM

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