Solar Energy Has Its Own NIMBY Problem

Victor Jansen says these panels aren't as clean and green as you might think.
As we reported in this week's cover story, many of the people living near the Hanford Nuclear Reservation are happy to have the job-creating site as a neighbor. But opponents still insist nuclear is a risky and dangerous energy source, preferring wind and solar, which don't carry the risk of Chernobyl-like accident.

Developer Victor Jansen hasn't weighed in on the nuclear debate, but he claims solar has its own toxic problems. Yesterday he filed suit [pdf] to stop construction of a plant in Moses Lake, a town most Seattleites know as a place to stop for fuel and food between here and Spokane on I-90, that would manufacture silane gas--a necessary component of solar panels. According to Jansen, the gas, if inhaled in too high a concentration, will make your "lungs crystallize, resulting in permanent injury and death." And he's worried it will be seeping into the air over 61 acres of land he owns adjacent to the site.

Norwegian-owned company REC Silicon, Inc. has been making parts for solar panels in Moses Lake since 2002. Last week, the Puget Sound Business Journal reported that REC Silicon plans to build a $688 million expansion at the site in order to start manufacturing 9,000 metric tons of silane gas every year.

Jansen is asking the court to stop construction saying that REC Silicon didn't go through the proper channels to get the plant permitted by the state. Beyond that, he claims, the company has a history of failing to monitor chemical emissions and accidents. (There was a fire in the plant last November, though REC Silicon claimed no harmful chemicals were released at the time.) He also started a Web site with the counter-intuitive name RECisEXECEPTIONAL to rally support from others who think the company is anything but.

Jansen is no stranger to the court system, his name pops up 25 times in a state court search and he's been on both the plaintiff and defendant sides. In this case, a compelling reason for the legal action is Jansen's 61 acres, which he worries will be rendered worthless, since no one would want to risk crystallized lungs from living near the facility. REC hasn't yet responded in court.

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