China’s solar disaster

China’s solar disaster

The recent Solyndra debacle involving U.S government subsidies towards a now bankrupt solar energy startup has dominated headlines in the U.S. But China is facing a more serious solar crisis.

After four days of protests at the Jinko Solar Holding, an NYSE listed company based out of Haining, Chinese officials have shut down the plant and apologized to citizens over  alleged dumping of toxic waste into the local river. The protests come after a large number of fish deaths from what are perceived to be high levels of fluoride in the water. The Los Angeles Times‘ Jonathan Kaiman reports:

The decision is an indication of the growing power of environmental protesters to sway government policy in China. As many as 500 villagers participated in the protests near Haining, an industrial city of 640,000 in coastal Zhejiang province.

The plant’s operator, JinkoSolar, a New York Stock Exchange-listed company, issued a public apology Monday.

"We cannot shirk responsibility for the legal consequences which have come from management slips," Jing Zhaohui, a company representative, said at a news conference.

Company officials are claiming that recent rainfall, and poor containment of solid waste at the factory contributed to runoff which fed into the river system. While there have been no human casualties as of yet, much of the toxins that killed the animals, including lead, are linked to human  neurological conditions as well. Jinko’s shares also took a hit today from the news, declining by nearly 10 percent in today’s trading.

As the Guardian’s Jonathan Watts reported, the clash is also indicative of the types of challenges that China faces as it struggles to move away from a primarily coal-based energy portfolio toward one including cleaner tech. Furthermore, the protest will bring further questions about the extent to which China’s support of solar manufacturers can last.

As the AFP noted, China’s extensive use of "cheap labor and state support" has bolstered the industry into producing nearly 70 percent of the world’s supply. FP‘s Clyde Prestowitz recentlyfurther into detail on how China’s aggressive policies are eating into production from countries including the United States.

Of course, the burgeoning sector isn’t going to go very far if clean tech proves prone to toxic accidents.