Saturday, November 28, 2009

Not All Want Solar4All

Image: Solar panel at sunset.

New solar panels on utility poles in historic districts caught preservationists by surprise over the holiday weekend, but the Solar4All program was proposed by PSE&G in February and launched in July, according to published reports.

In e-mails forwarded to Plaintalker, preservationists call them unsightly and wonder how they escaped the scrutiny of the Historic Preservation Commission.

For a concise report on the program from Reuters, click here.

The Historic Preservation Commission reviews and makes recommendations on all changes to the exteriors of buildings in the city's six residental historic districts, the city's North Avenue Commercial Historic District and the Civic Historic District around the War Memorial and City Hall, among other responsibilities. Land use boards must take the commission's recommendations into account when hearing applications.

It is not clear whether the HPC's jurisdiction extends to new uses on utility poles.

The panels need to be installed where tree branches or other objects will not block the sun. They are fixed and cannot follow the sun's rotation. According to a PSE&G Solar4All fact sheet, "PSE&G will install solar panels on up to 200,000 utility poles in neighborhoods throughout PSE&G's service territory - the largest pole attached installation in the U.S."

Click here to read the full fact sheet. A South Plainfield firm, Petra Solar, received the contract for installation. PSE&G won approval last summer from the Board of Public Utilities for the five-year, $515 million project. It is expected to generate "hundreds of good-paying green jobs" in addition to creating savings on energy bills over time.

City Hall was closed for the Thanksgiving holiday, but you can bet on Monday preservationists will be looking for answers from somebody on the sight that ruined their appetite for the traditional feast.

--Bernice Paglia


Blogger active citizen said...

How ugly and stupidly designed these panels are. Fifteen or twenty years ago there would have been too many trees to allow for any of these solar panels. I guess instead of keeping our trees healthy we made room for these unsightly panels. I think humans are getting stupider with each generation.

2:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

#1 the sun does not rotate
#2 get over it!

5:36 PM  
Blogger Bernice said...

Whoops! Should I have said the sun's perceived passage from sunrise to sunset as the earth rotates? Same idea as sundials.

5:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't it ironic that the preservation commission is not concerned about preserving our PLANET??? My children have pointed out the solar panels and it has generated wonderful discussion on how to be good citzens of our Planet. As a mother, I love the idea of solar panels on the poles. They are so much better looking than those all those wires and large transformers.

6:46 PM  
Anonymous Erin said...

Is the panel not being aesthetically pleasing more important than the fact that it is creating “hundreds of good-paying green jobs”, as well as helping our economy, and saving our planet overall? The panels are placed on existing utility infrastructure that the Historic Preservation Commission has never complained about before. Aren’t the wires and transformers “ugly” as well? Should it all be taken down? Nothing historic was changed or removed, and the panels are simply helping preserve our planet. Personally, I believe the "Preservation Commission" should be happy about it! What is there to really complain about?

12:43 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

I agree that "aesthetics" should not be a factor in how we view anything that makes the world a better place. Although, solar panels are quite beautiful compared to an oil tanker spilling all over a 'historically preserved' national park, or the cough of a coal miner, but since those sources of energy are not outside your front door you don't care. Also, in this economy these panels are creating great jobs, stimulating the economy, and are progressive in the state of New Jersey for a clean and green environment. If you ask me the topic of historic preservation is irrelevent when talking about these panels. We need to focus on the future and the planet we will leave behind for our grandchildren. It's not like anyone put these panels on the crypt of Thomas Jefferson.

12:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my opinion the HP board is about as self-important, annoying, and relevant as a co-op board or condo association. Full of nosey. Little nerds.

10:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I lost all respect for the HP when they allowed the Tyler Mansion on 7th to be destroyed by the "renovations" by the current owner. Nothing was said or done to stop it, just another ugly stucco job! The solar panels, while obtrusive, are designed to provide a benefit. To the we remove the modern conviences of electric, cable and phone since they come in on poles and wires? How far do we take the preservation?

1:06 PM  
Blogger Bernice said...

My understanding is that if a building is not protected by being in an historic district or other specific designation, it doesn't come under the HPC's jurisdiction. The former mansion (now a six-family) where I live is just outside the Crescent Area district and even though it was the home of one of the first Plainfield council members, it is not protected.

3:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fascinating. People are getting all crazy with anti-HPC sentiment. Sounds like a Green-inspired campaign. There would be nothing more than helpful to Jenny Wenson-Maier than to get rid of the board and the historic districts. They stand in her way of putting up god-awful construction projects all over town.

I have lived in and out of Plainfield's historic districts in my nearly 3 decades in this city. And I've owned or rented in 2 different historic districts. I know the hassles of ownership and having to follow rules. But I also know the advantages. Without the historic districts, we would be seeing many more atrocious renovations like the Tyler Mansion that 1:06PM complains about. That building stands outside the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District. There was nothing the HPC could do to stop the changes. And the "Public Works and Urban Development" folks don't care. They just issue building permits and look the other way EVEN when a property is in a district. As it is, HPC has little enforcement power. Building owners regularly do unapproved renovations on weekend when no one seems to be watching.

For me, the reason I bother staying in Plainfield is the beautiful homes (even if I don't own them) and for the friends who do own and take care of them. The stunning architecture that can be seen throughout the city is unparalleled across the state. If the city would devote it's time to THOUGHTFUL, historically sensitive development of North Avenue, we might begin to have a downtown we could be proud of.

Being on the HPC is often a thankless task so I am grateful for everyone who serves in that capacity.

8:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw one of those panels by Library Park the other day and wondered about it. Thanks for the update, Bernice.

And for all the people above who aren't sure of the value of historic preservation, why don't you come to Sunday's Christmas House tour. There's a spectacular restoration on West 8th Street that will be on the tour. Click here for info: Van Wyck Brooks Historic District House Tour - Sunday, December 6, 1-6pm


11:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have lived in Plainfield for 10 yrs and now Westfield for 12.
I chose both of these towns because of the towns historic heritage and turn of the cent. architecture and planning.
That a public utility can plant one of these ugly panels anywhere they want shocks and appalls me.
I am an architect and I am also concerned about our environment from a resource position..
There are miles of industrial neighborhoods that are not zoned for residential In both town....This is where they belong.
I woke up to one in front of my house and plan to retain a lawyer and fight PSE&G.
These panels are the worst thing that has happened to our communities since the invention of the utilty pole itself...

3:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The panels on utility poles are definitely exciting. Despite its many advantages, let's not forget that the total amount of electricity generated by all planned 200,000 panels will be less than 1% of the total electricity consumed by the state. Is that 1% going to make the state environmentally more friendly?

I do not think so. To make a difference, at least ten times as many panels, that is, 2,000,000 panels need to be installed in order to make a noticeable difference. To make a difference, either increase the number of panels, or decrease the size of the population. There is no other way.

10:30 PM  

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