Opinion: Fairfield should be proud of its clean energy efforts
Published 12:03 pm, Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Due to the election, climate change has been a pressing topic recently. Put simply, climate change is when greenhouse gases are added to the atmosphere, increasing the greenhouse effect, and raising the Earth’s surface temperature. But using renewable energy reduces greenhouse gases, thus combatting climate change.
Scott Thompson, chairman of Fairfield’s Clean Energy Task Force (CETF), believes “Fairfield is doing a super job” of lowering our greenhouse gas emissions. The CETF spent the past few years working to install solar panels around town. Solar photovoltaic cells absorb light from the sun’s energy, and a semi-conductor converts it into electricity without emissions.
However, these solar energy projects are not visible around town, because many projects sit on rooftops. The CETF wants to change this so Fairfield residents can see and be proud of our clean energy efforts. So, in 2015, they proposed to build a Photovoltaic Solar System carport over the parking lot of the downtown Fairfield train station. This system would have produced electricity sufficient to cover 90 percent of Tomlinson Middle School’s power.
This project could have saved the town $1.8 million in energy costs over its lifetime, and helped reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. But on Dec. 2 2015, the motion for the project failed unanimously at a Board of Selectmen meeting.
There were many concerns about this project, including costs to the town, parking spaces, and the effect of drainage or snow on the system. If these were the issues that prevented the project from being implemented, I would have understood. But the CETF addressed and answered these concerns. The structures would have been designed in a way so that no parking spaces were lost, and if needed, paving equipment and snow plows could still fit underneath. Hail, snow, and rain would not be a concern as the “v” shaped roof design allows for easy drainage. As for the cost, our power purchase agreement with Greenskies Renewable Energy means they will fund both the construction and all associated maintenance of the carport.
In other words, the project would not impact the lot users, be seriously impacted by weather, or even need to be paid for by the town. It would simply power nearly all of Tomlinson Middle School’s electricity needs, and reduce the town’s greenhouse gas emissions.
But despite these realistic concerns being addressed, the “aesthetic concerns” over the solar panels were simply too pressing for the project approval.
It saddens me to know that my town is more concerned over the aesthetics of a clean energy project than combating climate change. What currently resides there is an asphalt parking lot. I do not understand how the carport is drastically more of an eyesore than that. Scott Thompson believes people claim aesthetics is the reason they do not want these projects, but it’s really because people are afraid of change.
“People have accepted parking lots and utility lines, but solar panels are new.” But then again, accepting a minor change, such as a solar carport in a parking lot, would be lessor than having to accept the drastic changes stemming from climate change.
In addition, if the solar panel aesthetics truly are of harm, alternative styles exist. In conjunction with SolarCity, Elon Musk has helped develop new solar panel shingles that are “designed to look identical to conventional roofing and lower overall solar roofing costs compared to the use of solar panels.”
Musk is not alone in revolutionizing solar energy, Star Energy Partners Solar announced it would be using the “best-looking” black solar panels. These black panels are not only more attractive, but made of black silicon and are monocrystalline, which means that they have a higher efficiency and power output than the common polycrystalline solar panels. The new black panels will provide enhanced aesthetics for the home and increased effectiveness in gathering and storing solar energy. So, if this aesthetic argument truly cannot be overlooked, compromises can be made.
The CETF is soon going to be proposing two more solar energy carports. These structures would be located at both Fairfield Warde and Ludlowe High School. The CETF says it will be working with residents on these projects to get their input on the design of the structures. But when it comes time to vote for whether these projects will be approved, I ask you to keep in mind which you value more. The aesthetics of a new clean energy project, or knowing your town is fighting climate change?