Fort Bend Co. neighbors want to know whether solar panel farm's hailstorm damage leaked chemicals

Nick Natario Image
Saturday, March 23, 2024
Neighbors next to solar panel farm hammered by hail worried of leak
Guy, Texas, neighbors are eagerly awaiting TCEQ findings about possible leaked chemicals after a hailstorm hammered the Fighting Jays Solar Farm.

GUY, Texas (KTRK) -- A hailstorm hammered thousands of solar panels at a Fort Bend County farm with emergency crews investigating, and neighbors worried whether any chemicals were leaking.

An unimaginable storm's unforgettable damage

Last Saturday was a night Nick Kaminski will never forget. After the wind tore off his roof, golf ball-sized hail rained from the sky.

"The hailstorm we experienced Saturday morning was unimaginable," Kaminski recalled. "We've never seen anything like it in our lifetime."

Kaminski's property damage wasn't his only upsetting sight. He couldn't believe it when he looked at what else the hail hit.

"They look like somebody took a shotgun and blasted it into the air and let the pellets fall down and shatter holes all in them," Kaminski said.

Instead of collecting rays, panels from the Fighting Jays Solar Farm in Guy were hammered by hail. SkyDrone13 captured thousands of rows of shattered panels - damage more concerning to Kaminski than what happened to his home.

Experts said that most of the time, large solar farm panels are made of compound cadmium telluride.

This is something Kaminski is worried about because he uses well water.

"That's what we take a shower with, we drink with," Kaminski explained. "It could be in our water now."

What is cadmium telluride? Why experts say there's no reason to panic over busted panel

Experts said solar panels can be made from silicon or cadmium telluride. Most home panels are made with silicon and don't contain dangerous chemicals.

Experts said that cadmium telluride panels are cheaper and tend to be found on large solar farms. ABC13 went inside the office space at Fighting Jays Solar to ask what's in the solar panels.

An employee told Eyewitness to email. ABC13 did and asked questions, including whether the compound cadmium telluride was in the equipment.

A spokesperson called ABC13 but wouldn't answer questions on the record. The solar farm's website doesn't mention anything about chemicals in the solar panels but states that insurance policies will cover a hailstorm if it hits.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, cadmium telluride is found in some solar panels. It is a toxic substance that can cause kidney, heart, skin, and lung issues.

"It's possible you dented the solar panel, but they have a lot of protection layers on top of that," Ramamoorthy Ramesh, a Rice University physics professor who has studied and worked on panels for years, said.

Ramesh said even if the dangerous chemical leaked, it was a very small amount and would need a long time to enter the water supply.

"Even if I expose it, it has to get into the groundwater, which means water has to dissolve the cadmium telluride," Ramesh explained. "Cadmium telluride does not dissolve in water."

What county and state officials are doing

ABC13 contacted Fort Bend County leaders, who said they knew about the hailstorm damage.

They said HAZMAT crews visited the area and found no contamination. They also told ABC13 that the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality is investigating and could have an update as soon as Friday.

Neighbors want to see these results after they continue to deal with the fallout from a hailstorm they'll never forget.

"I've got two children, a wife, and my neighbor has kids, and it's concerning," Kaminski said.

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