Archive for April, 2011

What do you mean I can’t stop the solar farm across the street?

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Can't we all just get along?

Wow.  I have been MIA for quite some time!  Between conferences, presentations, last minute meetings, the every day grind of working in a start-up co., and somewhere in between finding time to enjoy life, I seem to have neglected our friend called blog.

So where shall we begin?  Well recently my father, Clay, was invited to give a presentation to the town of Medford, along with a handful of other professionals in the solar biz, on the benefits of solar and how it works.  It seems that many adversaries of solar, who, upon learning more about the reality of these seemingly “ugly” contraptions, have recently converted to solar evangelists.   Solar is becoming increasingly popular, almost everyday you can find an article in the newspaper about another 10 MW solar farm being approved.. you may have even seen one popping up in your own backyard.

So what does this mean to you???  Out here in farm land we call south Jersey, we are used to seeing fields of crops, cow pastures, peach trees and old farm houses.. believe me, I know, I grew up here too!  But now we are hearing of a new kind of farm coming to town, a solar farm, and there seems to be no stopping them no matter how much we vent to the town board that for decades we watched pumpkins grow and deer graze in the empty field across the street.  We understand and empathize with your situation.  But at the same time we are here to help shed light on the other perspective, the benefits that this sun soaking apparatus has to offer.  Like I said, there seems to be no stopping them, so let’s find out why.

Well, first and foremost, the State has deemed solar to be “inherently beneficial”, which means, solar cannot be stopped just because we don’t want to look at it.

“Inherently beneficial use” means a use which is universally considered of value to the community because it fundamentally serves the public good and promotes the general welfare. Such a use includes, but is not limited to, a hospital, school, child care center, group home, or a wind, solar or photovoltaic energy facility or structure.”

“Wind, solar or photovoltaic energy facility or structure” means a facility or structure for the purpose of supplying electrical energy produced from wind, solar, or photovoltaic technologies, whether such facility or structure is a principal use, a part of the principal use, or an accessory use or structure.”

Aside from all the obvious reasons of going solar:   dependance on foreign oil, war as an effect of that reliance, pollution from dirty energy sources, increasing electricity rates… need I say more?  With that said, while our solar machines are quietly sunbathing, they are actually working towards a greater good in reducing the propensities of the past.

Now let’s address some of the concerns that solar raises:

Do they emit radiation, are they toxic and do they pose health issues for those living near them? No.  Solar panels do not emit radiation or any radioactive side effects.  In short, solar panels are comprised of silicon cells sandwiched between tempered glass with galvanized or stainless steel racking, none of which is toxic to the earth and all of which is recyclable at the end of the panel’s life cycle.

Are the solar panels noisey and will we hear them across the street? We had several studies done by an acoustic engineer who concluded that, number one, the panels themselves do not make noise.  Secondly, the inverters, which convert the electric from DC to AC power release a low hum, which cannot be heard 100 feet away (65 decibels at the source reducing 6 dB every 10 ft.).  Conclusion:  crickets are much louder.

Aesthetics of the solar farm –  solar farms must follow strict guidelines imposed by the town planner, which usually consists of a 100-foot front set back, 6′ fencing, lined with black vinyl (which has been determined to blend very well with natural habitats), and a hefty buffer consisting of a mixture of deciduous and needle-leaf trees, shrubs, bushes and any other landscaping the town stipulates.  The goal of the farm is to blend in with the natural environment in contrast of resembling utility equipment or a substation.

Do solar panels create glare? Solar panels are designed to absorb light (not reflect) to convert into electricity.  Most panels now contain two layers of anti-reflective coating which reduces reflection and increases sunlight absorption.  To give a comparison, solar panels have a similar reflectivity % as:  dry sand, needle-leaf trees and grass-type vegetation.

What are the effects on the environment? First, let me say that we do not put solar farms on property that requires cutting down trees!  There is plenty of open space to utilize, most of which is no longer being used by farmers who wish to sell or lease their land and retire from the highly physical lifestyle of farming (believe it or not, solar farms are actually helping people who can’t sell their land during these economic times and can no longer work the land themselves), plus, the land below the solar panels have the option of being farmed by low-lying crops, otherwise, we plant meadow grass.  Solar is not an impervious surface, meaning, solar panels do not inhibit natural recharging of the land and allow the absorption of water.  Examples of impervious surfaces can include driveways, homes, pavement or any other cover that prevents water from being absorbed into the ground, thereby preventing aquifers from being replenished and causing run-off, soil erosion, flooding and other environmental hazards.

And once built, we have a passive solar farm ladies and gentlemen. This is less obtrusive than even a regular old farm.  Solar farms do not make use of harmful chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers and there is no additional dust, mud or noise generated from tractors and farm equipment.  Let’s also take a second to consider the alternatives.  Some of these properties have residential and industrial zoning which permits housing developments and industrial uses such as manufacturing, freight, trucking, workers, traffic, signs, buildings, chemicals, pollution and other undesirables to move in.  Even though a farmer has been occupying the land for what seems like a lifetime, many are selling their land and you never know who the new owner will be.  At least with solar, you’re getting a quiet neighbor for 15, 20, 30 years or more.

What happens to the equipment when the solar panels are done being used? There are several options when deciding the method of installation.  We choose to go with either an I-beam or an earth screw, which does not require concrete pilings or any permanent fixture.  Both are comprised of either galvanized or stainless steel and again, does not contaminate the earth.  When it is time to remove the panels we simply pick up the equipment, leaving the earth virtually untouched aside from holes similar to what you would expect from fence posts and take everything to a recycling center for the material to be reused in computers, calculators, and whatever else your heart desires.

Additionally, solar farms do not increase the number of homes, traffic, children in school systems, the need for additional police, septic, etc.  On the other hand, solar farms DO increase the local tax base and jobs.  Solar supports 15-30 jobs for every megawatt produced.  Solar can also help municipalities and schools in reducing their electric bill and therefore contribute that money towards their disposable income.  Feel free to contact us for details on how to make this happen. And finally, one solar project (10 MW AC), enough to power 2,000 homes annually, will offset 16,200 tons of CO2 per year, equivalent to planting 2.375 million pine trees a year.

Now I pose the question, is solar our friend or foe? And remember what they say in grade school, don’t judge a book by it’s cover.  He might be “ugly” but he has a big heart.