NIMBY reactions to small solar panels on utility poles

Green projects seem to have a good amount of general support. But when plans are made or carried out in particular locations, residents can become upset at how this changes the neighborhood. A recent example involves a plan to install small solar panels on a large number of utility poles in New Jersey:

Residents and politicians in Ridgewood, Wyckoff, and several other posh suburban towns just outside New York City are attacking local utility company PSE&G for putting up solar panels. Specifically, in an attempt to double the Garden State’s solar capacity, the company has been installing 3-foot-by-5-foot solar modules on utility poles. And the reactions are less than positive: “It’s just horrible,” said Ridgewood’s Deputy Mayor Tom Riche, according to an article in The Record, of Bergen County, N.J. on Sunday.

PSE&G wants to add 40 megawatts of solar capacity to the energy mix by 2013 as part of its Solar4All program, and the company is putting 180,000 solar panels on utility poles, schools, and other structures at a cost of more than half a billion dollars.  Among the objections (followed by the utility’s responses):

  • Crews install the panels without any warning. (PSE&G owns the poles.)
  • Residents gripe that the panels are “crammed” onto some blocks while some blocks have none at all. (Poles must have southern exposure and meet other criteria.)
  • Town officials are worried about liability caused by falling ice and snow. (Liability is actually PSE&G’s problem.)

Jerseyans aren’t the only ones raining on solar’s parade with an “ugliness” charge.

Three things strike me about these complaints:

1. Suburbanites tend not to like any changes in a neighborhood if they were not given prior warning. Or, we might even make a stronger argument: perhaps suburbanites just simply don’t like any changes to their neighborhood unless they have direct control over the changes being made.

2. As the end of this post points out, the utility pole is not exactly a paragon of beauty to start with. I currently live in a neighborhood with underground wires and fairly regularly I’m grateful that I don’t have to look at utility poles. Perhaps there are people out there who like their utility poles just the way they are – but this seems to go back to the first thought above.

3. This actually sounds like a clever idea on the part of the utility company. Since they already have the poles in place, why not put them to use and generate a decent amount of electricity through a distributed system? I wonder if the utility company predicted any outcry from citizens – and if so, perhaps they should have announced giant wind farms or something like that first so people would later be willing to settle for utility pole solar panels.

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