Safety of solar project debated

Published 5:10 pm Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Questions related to the Kenbridge Solar project, proposed to be located at 284 Hickory Road, have included potential environmental impacts, or impacts on nearby pedestrians in the event of chemical leakage.

While solar facilities are a relatively new industry in Virginia, Adam Ventre with Hexagon Energy, the company heading the proposed solar project, contends that the project poses little to no risks and that the technology has been in place for some time.

“Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels consist of common materials including glass, polymer, aluminum, copper and silicon semi-conductor material,” Ventre said. “Solar PV panels function as a solid state, inert crystal composed of non-toxic materials and are most similar to a pane of solid glass. The solar panels do not contain chemicals or fluids that can leak. The technology is over 30 years old and millions of solar panels have been safely installed around the country. We use the same type of solar panels that are installed on residential homes, schools, churches and hospitals.”

The application given to Lunenburg County by Hexagon Energy included a study by NC State University in May 2017 concerning potential risks associated with solar facility projects.

Dangers cited in the study include increased highway traffic during construction and potential trespasser contact with high-voltage equipment, which is cited to be mitigated by security at the project site.

PV technologies cited in the study includes crystalline silicon, cadmium telluride, called (CdTe) and Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS or CIS).

Crystalline silicon is cited to make up more than 90 percent of solar PV panels installed, according to the North Carolina study. While most component in the panels do not pose chemical risks, the study cites that some PV cells contain lead, which can be harmful to young children.

“The minor components include an extremely thin anti-reflective coating (silicon nitride or titanium dioxide), a thin layer of aluminum on the rear, and thin strips of silver alloy that are screen-printed on the front and rear of cell,” the study cited.

Tiny amounts of lead can also exist on the panel’s frit and solder, bonding materials.

“The very limited amount of lead involved and its strong physical and chemical attachment to other components of the PV panel means that even in worst-case scenarios the health hazard it poses is insignificant,” the study cited.

Cadmium is described as a toxic heavy metal. The study cited that cadmium telluride differs from cadmium due to cadmium telluride’s high chemical and thermal stability.

CIGS or CIS contain a number of elements that are not qualified as highly toxic, though the cells are said to contain a trace amount of cadmium. The study cites that the authors are not aware of completed or proposed projects that use CIGS or CIS panels.