NOW THAT’S FUNNY
Towns all over New Jersey have been getting solar panels put in place on utility poles, often on residential streets.
Wow, is that ugly.
Actually, more than just ugly. Strange looking. I always thought of solar panels as discreet gray things stuck on someone’s roof. I never imagined they’d be hanging over my curb like a weird cookie sheet.
PSE&G has installed 82,000 of the 180,000 panels for the project, and this is projected to double the state’s solar capacity, providing 40 million watts of power, enough to supply electricity to 6,600 homes, said Al Matos, PSE&G's vice president of Renewable and Energy Solutions.
The project was all going according to plan until the installations reached Bergen County, when many towns began objecting about the eyesores these panels are creating. The panels themselves are 3x5 feet, and when perched up high on utility poles, stick out over the street.
I don’t know why other towns haven’t complained. You’re telling me that people in Montclair and Chatham just let PSE&G slap up a bunch of hanging trays along their residential streets without uttering a word of protest?
Oradell resident Dick Joel was quite angry about the one that was put up and currently hangs over his driveway. He is particularly annoyed that PSE&G came to his town and just started erecting them without any notice.
Well, PSE&G owns the utility poles, so they have the law on their side, even though the municipalities own the land on which the pole sits. Matos stated that the law provides a clear definition that PSE&G can use the right of way to install equipment related to both the supply and distribution of electricity.
However, officials from the town of Westwood recently met with PSE&G and got them to temporarily halt the installations so locations more agreeable to residents could be investigated. Other towns are trying to do the same thing: Ridgewood is considering the Park and Ride on Route 17 and Wyckoff wants to try the roofs of public buildings. Towns need to be wary: in Fairlawn a bunch of panels were put up on one street but not on any others that did have similar conditions. So what happens to the property value of those houses? Are you going to buy a house with a big solar panel out front when you could buy one a block away that doesn’t have a panel?
The utility poles chosen for the panels must have a clear southern or southwest exposure with a 120-volt line attached to it so the panel can be hooked directly into the grid. The pole can't be cluttered with other hardware, such as telephone or cable TV equipment. The panels must be installed a minimum of 15 feet off the ground to comply with safety codes. The solar energy goes directly to the homes near the panel, Matos said.
Uh oh. I have a utility pole at the end of my driveway and we get a ton of sun on our side of the street. I love my town, but I have to say my street has enough ugly stuff already. It’s narrow, and there are some No Parking signs up that regulate who can park on the street during commuting hours. There are lots of utility poles, of course, with those grim, gray transformer boxes, and there are scads of wires criss-crossing over driveways and snaking into everyone’s house.
But I’ve become used to looking at it. We’ve all had to get used to looking at ugly stuff. How about those cell towers that look like fir trees? Do you like those? How about big power plants with chain-link fences around them? How about parking garages, or the dump, or for that matter, strip malls. Ugly.
I don’t want to be one of those “not in my back yard” types, but I am definitely one of those “not in my front yard” types. We have train stations, schools, and business centers where these things could be set up. Of course, they’re still ugly, but at least they’re not MY ugly.
Is it too much to ask to be “green” and somewhat aesthetic?
Pam Lobley writes the “Now That’s Funny” column. Sign up for her mailing list at www.pamlobley.com.