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Letter: Solar power is part of a healthier future


A number of letters have recently been published here opposing solar power installations. Many of the comments addressed concerns about the impact on health and the environment, both of which are issues that I also care deeply about. After considering the arguments made and looking at the evidence, I am inclined to believe that the benefits of solar power for our community far outweigh the costs.

Some people have cited negative effects on human health in their opposition to solar power. These arguments fail on two counts. First, they overstate or misunderstand the risks. It is true that solar panels give off electromagnetic radiation. Electromagnetic radiation represents a broad spectrum that includes the radio and TV signals in the air around you every minute of the day, as well as light itself. Solar panel electromagnetic radiation is weak and nonionizing, which essentially means it has no known capacity to alter the body’s chemistry, besides slightly warming it; the heat coming off a warm mug of coffee is itself electromagnetic radiation. If you want to avoid this radiation, I advise simply that you do not sleep on a solar panel. Similarly, concerns about cadmium leaking from panels are not well-founded, in part because approximately 95% of panels aren’t built with cadmium. The second and bigger issue is that in any risk assessment, we need to compare our options. A vote against solar energy is a vote in favor of other sources of energy, primarily the burning of fossil fuels. Unlike solar panels, fossil fuel combustion has incredibly well-documented health effects. For instance, studies from just the past year have found that eliminating emissions from energy generation using fossil fuels would prevent an estimated 53,000 premature deaths and $600 billion in expenses per year in the US, and that gas stoves pollute home air with particularly harmful volatile chemicals, even when turned off (published in the journals GeoHealth and Environmental Science & Technology, respectively). And, much of humanity’s exposure to dangerous levels of cadmium can actually be traced to coal mining. The risks of solar energy to health absolutely pales in comparison to fossil fuel-based energy. Moreover, the farm fields that are being replaced by solar installations are not innocent either. Most agricultural fields receive large inputs of potentially harmful chemicals, including phosphate fertilizers that often contain elevated levels of cadmium.

I love wildlife and have made a career of studying animals that are experiencing the loss of habitat, so it was nice to hear that people are concerned about them as potential victims of large scale projects. And, it is true that replacing a healthy, functioning ecosystem with a solar farm is going to hurt the wildlife there — which is something I would never advocate for. But we are talking about agricultural fields and similar lands. These are not homes to struggling populations of plants and animals. Though cornfields may attract some deer, geese, and blackbirds, these species have large populations and plenty of habitat, and other species may end up preferring solar farms over agricultural fields. Additionally, the concerns specifically for the wellbeing of birds are misplaced. A recent nationwide estimate from researchers at Argonne National Laboratory finds that well over 100 times more birds are killed by fossil fuel power plants than by solar power (not to mention the thousands of times more birds killed by windows and buildings), which is why the leading bird conservation group, the Audubon Society, is fully in favor of solar power. Once again, rejecting solar power is a choice for fossil fuels and more -— not less — harm to wildlife.

I’m glad people are engaging with issues in our community that can affect our health and environment. In this case, however, the best evidence we have does not support the claims made opposing solar installations. That is why I have to conclude with my support for efforts to improve our energy infrastructure in the county by increasing solar energy usage. Solar energy is an important part of achieving a healthier future with more wildlife.

Brad Carlson



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