Solar panels face cloudy views

Solar Installation

All of solar’s merits add to its beauty. Photo

After months of wrestling with the local County Building Department about permits and codes, excruciating financial gymnastics and down and dirty back-breaking spadework, we finally got our solar installation up. It’s a massive 3 kw (stc) photovoltaic pole mount.

We feel like we created the best of two worlds, too, since we live way back in the woods while, at the same time, we’re generating a lot of electricity.

Inscribed around the base of the installation is a sun mantra, OM Suryaya Namaha, honoring the Sun as the principal of light, life and love. In Vedic philosophy, the Sun represents the soul—the causal body or reincarnating entity, as well as the mind of clarity and illumination.

As Charles Eisenstein, in Sacred Economics, points out, he’s “not surprised that ancient people worshiped the sun, the only thing we know that gives without expectation or even possibility of return. The sun is generosity manifest.” He goes on, a bit later, to say that “solar energy is the light of earthly love reflected back at us”.

So, yes, we think our solar array is beautiful. It’s a piece of  architectural artwork; it’s practical spirituality; it’s earthly love reflected back at us!

Yards apart

We’ve learned that this, however, is not a popularly held viewpoint.

Comments to us have ranged from “what’s that monstrosity in your back yard?” to “I wouldn’t put something like that on my property!” Oh, there was also the woman who asked if we were “expecting an alien landing”.

Good grief.

These comments, mind you, all came from people who wouldn’t think twice if there were a couple of junk cars sitting out there, or maybe even a garish TV satellite receiver. If we had stashed an old washer or dryer on the back porch or had a couple of broken-down snowmobiles in the shed, they’d walk right by them, too, and never bat an eyelash.

But, some solar panels? No way!

Take, for example, the Town of Warwick, in southern Orange County, New York. They were the first community in the US to install solar panels on their Town Hall, install an electric car charging station near their farmers’ market and attract an LEED-certified supermarket.

This all sounds great to me!

But the town is now contending with the complaints of people who don’t like the idea of solar panels on downtown village homes.

John Hicks, the town attorney and former Orange County Republican chairman whose wife sent in a letter of complaint regarding the solar installations, said he and his wife support energy efficiency but oppose the installation of solar panels on historic downtown homes “because basically solar panels are pretty ugly.”

And, Warwick isn’t the only place where solar panels are under assault.

Here comes the sun

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 neighboring 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.

Aren’t we really addressing an age-old philosophical question about what constitutes beauty? Or fashion?

What is beauty?

For example, no self-respecting chic woman of the 21st century would be caught dead in a fitted bodice with gathers and heavily padded shoulders. But, if this were 1942, she’d be sizzling.

And, I’ll bet that few people thought that all of those poles and electric lines that got hung in the early 1900’s were ugly. Probably not: they were too excited about exchanging their oil lamps for light bulbs.

If we’re really talking about aesthetics, a nicely trimmed oil lamp is way prettier than a light switch. But, electric lights were a step forward. They lessened the chance of a house fire, didn’t emit fumes and put off way more light. So, nobody complained.

Well, it’s kind of the same with solar panels: they’re a step forward.

Onward and upward

Solar power is renewable and non-polluting. And, after the initial investment, all of the electricity produced is free. As a culture, we’re just not yet used to looking at them. But, give us a decade or so, and they’ll be like those electric wires that are strung all over the place—we’ll hardly even notice them. And, when we do, we’ll recognize that they’re beautiful.

They’re beautiful because they’re renewable and non-polluting. They’re beautiful because making and installing more of them means very serious job creation. And, because they’re a step forward.

Their beauty is grounded in their contribution to sustainable futures. They are an icon to something that we are giving to—instead of taking away from—subsequent generations. They are not a fashion statement: they’re an evolutionary statement. They’re monuments and odes to the awakening of our species.

OM Suryaya Namaha

–Sherry L. Ackerman, PhD., Transition Voice

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  1. says

    We moved about a year and a half ago, and one of the main things we were looking for was a clear, south-facing roof for a roof-mounted solar PV array. Our new neighbourhood, while modest, struck me at the time as a bit conservative, and I was apprehensive about our new neighbours’ reaction to our plans (although we would be mounting it on the back of the house, not visible from the street.) But before I could even bring the subject up, a neighbour began installing a huge (7kW) solar array on the FRONT of his house! And, far from eliciting a negative response, several other neighbours commented that they wished THEIR roof got more sun so they could do the same. Pretty cool. As a footnote to this, I was also initially apprehensive about reactions to our getting backyard chickens, but again, before I could even bring the subject up, two other neighbours commented that they were thinking of getting some. I’ve since decided I LIKE our new neighbourhood…

    • Erik Curren says

      Spastica Rex, I just don’t get that at all. To me the piece is very appealing because it considers different points of view and the author makes reasonable arguments. In the end, as the old saying goes, “pretty is as pretty does.” Solar panels provide the clean, renewable energy that our society needs. So that alone should make them beautiful anywhere you’d find other energy equipment like power lines, utility poles or even old-school chimneys.

  2. says

    I am so glad that you liked my Flickr photo so much that you included it on this page.

    I enjoy when people use my photos that I work hard on, but as I noted on Flickr below each photo I let people use my photos on the condition that they provide me credit to my site.

    Please add my link when you can.

  3. Todd Cory says

    “But before I could even bring the subject up, a neighbour began installing a huge (7kW) solar array on the FRONT of his house! ”

    7 kW? woe… they must be energy hogs. remember, renewables powering waste is not green. if you can’t zero out your use with 3 to 5 kW, there is something wrong. remember, renewables cost resources to make… so job one is reducing waste (yes conservation) and increasing efficiency first.

    if you want to see pictures of sherry’s actual system go here:

    todd cory

  4. Jb says

    It is important to note that as a general rule, PV should not be installed in the shadow zone of adjacent trees, roof profiles (as shown), incoming power lines, etc. Shadows, dirt / snow on the panels, improper angle and/or alignment can reduce output. Perhaps a short technical article as a follow up?

  5. SueBee says

    Great article, appreciate your posting it. (And am very glad to learn about! Will need to spend some time on that site!) Some neighborhoods have restrictive covenants/inflexible Homeowners’ Associations, older ones like mine we have more flexibility.

  6. Bruno Meneghetti says

    El motivo por el cual, los paneles solares resultan esteticamente desagradables es muy simple.
    Estos artefactos estan injertados encima de los techos, paredes etc. provocando una distonia con la logica vulgar, de como un edificio debe ser construido. La precariedad de un provisorio, resalta la sensacion de inseguridad en la poblacion ( existen ciertos riesgos reales, por ej. un huracan puede desprender las planchas y estas pueden provocar estragos) .La solucion al problema es bien simple, convertir estos paneles en el techo mismo en forma integrada. esto significaria que habria que levantar todo el techo, un trabajo importante que vale la pena, una demostracion de seriedad y no una enmienda provisoria.-

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