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The Myth of “Green and Clean” Renewable Energy

By: Dr. David R. Legates, Advisory Board Member, A Better Delaware

Delaware is embarking on an ambitious plan to reach NetZero—zero emissions of carbon dioxide—by 2050 and reduce emissions by half by 2030.  The Legislature has already begun to propose numerous proposals to enact draconian legislation to achieve this goal including HB99, passed in 2023, which blames carbon dioxide for potentially disastrous climate change.

Some Delawareans, based on a somewhat one-sided information flow, believe that even if carbon dioxide emissions are not responsible for changes in our climate, reducing our dependence on oil, gas, petroleum, and other forms of fossil fuels will be good for the environment.

As a result, Delaware’s farmlands in Kent and Sussex Counties are being covered by solar panels. Proposals to construct offshore wind turbines and to run their new power lines through our state park or Fenwick Island to connect to the electric grid are being proposed.  We are told that, in the end, our environment will be better for the eyesores these proposals would create.

But will it be better?  Since “climate change” was still called “global warming”, media reports have told us that wind and solar—so called, renewable energy sources—are both clean and green.  The truth is, they are neither.

When one looks at a solar panel or a wind turbine, all that is evident is that they supply solar or mechanical (wind) energy to the grid, powering our homes and our businesses.
They seem to do so without producing any harmful byproducts.  Clean and green, right?

Clean energy technology requires a wide range of metals and minerals, such as aluminum, cobalt, copper, lithium, nickel, zinc, as well as rare earth minerals such as Scandium, Yttrium, Lanthanum and a host of others of which you probably have never heard and cannot pronounce.  They are largely obtained from mines in Africa, southeast Asia, and South America.

These mines are not like those for coal, with which you might be familiar.  Open pit mining must be used to extract these metals and minerals.  Such mines are considered very dangerous to both miners’ health as well as to the local ecology and hydrology because of the harmful pollutants that are produced.

Consider lithium, an important metal used in the construction of batteries for EVs.  Mining lithium causes extreme environmental damage since the extraction process requires lots of water.  The result is a toxic lake. which leads to surface- and ground- water contamination.

Diverse places such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda in Africa, China, Inner Mongolia, and South Korea in Asia, and Brazil and Chile in South America are plagued with pollution arising from open pit mining, done to retrieve components of renewable energy.

In addition to the environmental concerns, the mining process in these countries should also raise flags for those concerned with social justice issues.  Slave and child labor are often used by the Chinese Communist Party which owns the mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Even those who willingly work in the mines suffer from extreme health hazards.

And we may not even know the true extent of the negative impact on our environment.  Italian researcher, Enrico Mariutti, examined the true carbon footprint of solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries and found that the extraction, production, and transportation associated with these so-called “green” energy technologies produce significant amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The nature and amount of the pollution created by these mines is reported by the mining companies themselves. Mariutti asks whether we would trust car manufacturers to certify emissions from their combustion engines or pharmaceutical companies to certify the safety of their drugs. Not likely.

He wrote “we are investing hundreds of billions of dollars a year in technologies that are low carbon only because someone wrote it down somewhere … there aren’t any national or international authorities who have bothered to understand on what basis and how this ‘paper knowledge’ was assembled.”

So, next time you see a wind turbine, a large solar panel, or an electric vehicle, think about the environmental damage that was wrought to mine the metals needed for their production, the energy that went into the mining and transport of the raw materials, and the health and social consequences of the miners who extract the necessary metals and minerals.

Are wind and solar energy really clean and green energy sources, or are they simply unreliable and expensive sources of intermittent energy?

Dr. David R. Legates is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Delaware and is the Director of Research and Education at the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.  He also is an Advisory Board Member of A Better Delaware.