Western View: Green Energy’s Dirty Little Secret

Dan Energy, Western View

Windstar Energy 120 Megawatt wind farm construction project, June 2011

With all the talk of agriculture contributing mightily to global warming with greenhouse gas emissions, the environmental movement is ignoring one of the worst greenhouse gas pollutants on the planet.  Maybe they are ignoring it because the gas is a direct result of so-called ‘green’ energy sources – It is used on those allegedly low polluting wind machines and huge solar farms they are all over the country now.  I’m talking about a chemical called Sulphur Hexafluoride, or SF6.  It’s widely used in the electrical industry to prevent short circuits and accidents.

PGE Power station at Squaw Leap

But according to a report in the BBC news,  leaks of the little-known gas in the UK and the rest of the European Union in 2017 were the equivalent of putting an extra 1.3 million cars on the road.  It’s the dirty little secret of the green energy boom, a hidden pollutant that reduces the impact of wind and solar energy production on the pollution levels generated by the energy industry.  It’s been called the most potent greenhouse gas in existence.

Solar farm under construction in the UK.

The BBC says that SF6 is cheap and a very good insulating material for medium and high-voltage electrical installations.  It is used in wind turbines as well as large power stations and sub-stations in towns and cities. It prevents electrical accidents and fires.

SMUD wind farm in the Montezuma Hills near Rio Vista generates 230 MW of power for SMUD. Each tower is 415 ft tall and generates 3 MW, enough for 1000 homes

However, the significant downside to using the gas is that it has the highest global warming potential of any known substance. It is 23,900 times more warming than carbon dioxide (CO2), according to an article in the industry publication Gas World.  Just one kilogram of SF6 warms the Earth to the same extent as 24 people flying London to New York and returning.

That is one heck of a lot more than any cow emission.  It’s adding up to more than the cost of transporting our harvests to market. It makes fossil fuel look almost healthy.

It’s beyond ironic – it’s tragic that we are being pushed into electric cars and trucks while the chemicals used to generate and transmit their electricity is creating an even worse pollution problem.

Western View:  Green Energy’s Dirty Little Secret

I’m Len Wilcox and that’s the Western View from AgNet West and Citrus Industry Magazine.  Visit us on the web at

About the Author

Len Wilcox

Len Wilcox is a retired scientist who also ran a newspaper and has written for agricultural publications since the 1980s. He was a regular contributor to California Farmer Magazine. His commentary “The Western View” is a regular feature on Farm City Newsday and AgNet West.