Underbelly of solar exposed as angry protests break out in factory

Underbelly of solar exposed as angry protests break out in factory

What would cause more than 500 people in China to flip company cars and storm the offices of a solar company? Solar may be heralded as a viable solution to our energy woes, but it takes power to make power and what you never hear about are the associated by-products created in the manufacturing of solar products. In protests that began on Thursday, protestors flooded the office of Jinko Solar Holding, a company that manufactures photovoltaic panels, wafers and cells. Protesters claim waste from the factory, located in Haining city in the Zhejiang province, is killing fish in a nearby river. 

BBC reports one villager told the Associated Press that as well as discharging waste into the river, the factroy contains a dozen chimney’s gushing with dense smoke. 

“The villagers strongly request that this factory be moved to another area," he said. "I am very worried about the health of the younger generation". 

At a news conference company spokesman Jing Zhaohui admitted to the company’s wrongdoing, saying that although the company complies with the state demands surrounding environment, it had slipped up. He said the company “sincerely apologises” and would make amends to clean up the pollution. 

The company also admitted the local environmental-protection bureau found fluoride levels in the brook exceeded normal limits. According to deputy head of Haining's environmental protection bureau, Chen Hongming, the factory had failed pollution tests as far back as April.

This might be a fresh protest, but the issue of 'greener' technology contributing to the very problem it may be trying to solve is nothing new. In 2008 green energy company Luoyang Zhonggui High-Technology, which manufactures polysilicon for solar energy panels sold around the world, was the subject of criticism after villagers complained of seeing company trucks dumping buckets of liquid into the ground from the factory. The problem? Ren Bingyan, a professor at the School of Material Sciences at Hebei Industrial University, told The Washington Post:

"The land where you dump or bury it will be infertile. No grass or trees will grow in the place. . . . It is like dynamite — it is poisonous, it is polluting. Human beings can never touch it."

A study published in journal Energy Policy found that China's plans to add 1.6GW of solar capacity by 2020, and India’s goal of 12GW by 2022 could result in the release of 2.4 million tonnes of lead pollution over the next decade.

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