DENVER – Abound made national headlines last year when the solar firm collapsed after receiving a $400 million taxpayer loan guarantee. But that failure could potentially stick taxpayers with an estimated $2.2 million more in cleanup costs if many of the now-defunct firm’s remaining solar panels – panels that regulators consider hazardous waste – aren’t sold.
The irony of taxpayers potentially being on the hook to clean up after “green energy” was not lost on Michael Sandoval, an investigative reporter for The Heritage Foundation.
“We’ve gone from clean green energy, to cleaning up after green energy…Inevitably, whether it is paid for by Abound Solar, or through a third party that comes in to clean up Abound’s mess, it is likely taxpayers will be on the hook to clean up after clean energy,” said Sandoval.
The Colorado-based company went bankrupt in 2012 after blowing through some $70 million.
Abound officials blamed the firm’s demise on unfair competition from China. Critics contend that political connections, not market considerations, are the reason the firm received tens of millions in taxpayer subsidies.
But the full public cost of Abound’s failure may not be known for some time.
Last month, the Denver Post reported that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment had informally ordered Abound Solar to clean up hazardous waste at four Front Range locations, where concerns were raised about contamination.
The CDPHE found 2,500 pallets of “unsellable” solar panels and over 6,000 gallons of hazardous liquids. The panels and liquids contain cadmium, considered a toxic substance by federal health agencies, but Colorado health department officials say there is no immediate health risk.
Abound has also faced questions about whether or not the taxpayer-supported company knowingly sold flawed panels.
“[Abound] has faced scrutiny by local authorities in Colorado as well as a congressional probe seeking to uncover whether the company knowingly sold defective panels that in some cases suffered ‘catastrophic failure,’” Sandoval wrote in a recent Heritage Foundation report. “As a result, both Abound and other companies have been left with thousands of ‘unsellable’ solar panels facing hazardous waste disposal, should a buyer not emerge to reclaim or recycle the modules.”
Reports suggest that at least one company, First Solar, is considering acquiring the panels, saying they can use component parts of the left-over panels, and dispose of those they can’t use.
In an email to The Observer, Alan Bernheimer of First Solar said “First Solar is not contemplating purchasing Abound’s panels. Rather, First Solar is assessing the feasibility of offering its recycling facilities to process this material for a fee.”
“I think it will be a bit of a shock to taxpayers who’ve been basically misinformed or led astray by the green energy advocates and got caught up in that bumper sticker mentality of clean green energy when in fact there are significant tradeoffs,” concluded Sandoval. “[I]n this case, dealing with the hazardous waste potential.”
Editor’s Note: Michael Sandoval is a former Colorado Observer correspondent