Q&A: North Carolina researchers confront health fears about solar

As large-scale solar projects have proliferated across North Carolina, some critics have pushed back with a surprising critique: photovoltaic panels, while beloved by environmental advocates, are a danger to public health. More than a half-dozen eastern counties have banned, delayed or restricted solar farms in part for that reason, while state lawmakers have threatened new onerous requirements. “Without a required decommissioning and a bond to secure it, huge swaths of land could become riddled with dead solar panels,” Rep. Chris Millis (R-Pender) told the conservative Carolina Journal this spring. But a recent white paper from the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center, a public service of North Carolina State University, unequivocally dismisses these concerns. “The health and safety risks associated with solar PV technology,” it reads, “are extremely small, far less than those associated with common activities such as driving a car, and vastly outweighed by health benefits of the generation of clean electricity.”

“Just like any scientific endeavor, it’s really hard to say that the risk is zero,” said Steve Kalland, the director of the Center, who’s now holding county meetings across the state to engage North Carolinians on solar.