Clippings: Stop worrying and learn to love solar arrays

I don’t get it. Why are there all these complaints about the fields of solar arrays being so ugly? Eye of the beholder, I say.
I love Vermont’s green hayfields dotted with red barns and dark blue silos under summer blue skies interrupted by a few massive white clouds. I love the cold, snow-covered winter fields with gray and blue shadows growing from the edges as the sun moves across the sky. I love the landscape, I really do. My wife pointed out that Addison County’s rolling, rural landscape is reminiscent of my native central Iowa landscape of working farms and small towns, except that here we are bookended by mountains on either side.
I love it, but I don’t love it so much that I want to put it under glass and never let it change. If you like the way Vermont looks today, take a photograph and put it in a scrapbook; you’ll be able to refer back to it any time you want to see how it was. Or buy a painting by one of Vermont’s many gifted landscape painters, like Kathleen Kolb (boy, I love her landscapes) or Sabra Field.
It will be good to have those visual reminders because the landscape is going to change — it always does. Your neighbor or that guy who owns the field up the road will decide to put up a Morton building or take down a beautiful maple and then where will your beautiful landscape be? Different, I suppose. Do you remember when you used to be able to drive up Route 7 from Middlebury to Burlington and you wouldn’t see any clusters of storage garages until you got into Chittenden County? I suppose it’s hard to tell those guys who fill those fields with storage garages that they can’t make money off their land the way they want to; that’s the Vermont way, isn’t it? Do you like to see the big gorilla holding up the VW bug by Route 7 in Leicester? Did you know that was made out of concrete? I can’t think of a building material I find less inviting than concrete. And yet, I like the gorilla.
So, what’s the problem with the solar arrays? Is it that they’re ugly or are they just different?
The Independent has published several letters and I’ve seen posts around the Internet from folks who don’t like to see the growing fields of steel and glass solar arrays in Vermont. I’m heartened that usually they start out with “We need to build more solar…”; but then they add “…but.” Some of the “buts” raise very legitimate concerns:
•  We need to build more solar, but we shouldn’t be giving sweetheart deals to developers of solar arrays.
•  We need to build more solar, but we shouldn’t be giving all the financial benefits to out-of-state companies.
•  We need to build more solar, but we need to give the local planners a voice in where and how they get sited.
•  We need to build more solar, but Chittenden County needs to bear the burden because that’s where the majority of the energy will be consumed.
I don’t really have an argument against most of these “buts.” Still, what’s often missing from these complaints is a reasonable alternative. If you don’t like solar arrays in your Addison County fields then suggest where the arrays should be put in Chittenden County; maybe it is on top of homes and businesses there. If you don’t like the fact that the law takes away the responsibility for siting solar arrays from local officials, then advocate specific changes in the law and organize your neighbors to put real heat on your lawmakers.
Some of the problems are more intractable. Part of the reason developers get sweetheart deals is that to some extent they wouldn’t build the arrays for anything less. It’s their money, and if they can make more building a shopping mall in Jersey than building a solar array in Vermont, most would build the mall. So, what do we do — damn them for their greediness and never get a solar array built in the state? Or do we damn them for their greediness, let them make a profit and save the planet?
That’s what it’s really about — stopping global warming, slowing the rate of climate change. It’s a big deal — it’s a very big deal. So some rich jerk gets richer saving the planet, at least we have the planet. So what I’d love to see is for more Vermonters to say we need to build more solar, but (fill in the blank), AND I can live with some compromise because it means that we will be taking one more step toward becoming carbon neutral.
There is one “but” that rubs me the wrong way:
•  We need to build more solar, but not in a way that would ruin my view of the landscape. They are just so ugly.
I do feel bad for those poor folks in New Haven who have a solar array sitting not 15 feet from their back door; that’s more than visually invasive, it’s physically in their face.
But when it comes to all those other ugly solar arrays, can I live with them? No, I can’t. But I haven’t seen those ugly ones, I only see the ones made of shiny steel and pristine glass that I think are pretty darn cool. I actually like the way they look. When I drive past a field with a hundred of these technical marvels producing energy without chugging crap into the clean Vermont air I think it looks beautiful.
I guess there’s no accounting for taste.

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