‘Not on my ugly, blighted utility pole’

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There’s nothing pretty about utility poles and lines snaking around urban neighborhoods. Can a solar panel really make it worse?

Apparently so, at least in New Jersey, the second-most-solar state in the country. The utility company is putting small solar panels on utility poles and people in Bergen County aren’t happy about it.

“I hate them,” Eric Olsen of Oradell told the New York Times. “It’s just an eyesore.”

I looked up Mr. Olsen’s address and loaded it into GoogleMaps. It’s easy to see why he’d think ill of the devices. He’s got a lovely neighborhood. Just wait until they have to start cutting the trees to allow the sun to hit the panels….

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But the general complaint about the panels is common when it comes to alternative energy. It’s different and thus constitutes “an eyesore.”

The people of one upscale neighborhood in Woodbury successfully fought a wind turbine that would’ve provided much of the power needed at a new high school a few years ago. None of the homes were within four or five city blocks. It would be an eyesore, they said. The city agreed.

But this runs through the same property and nobody seems to notice…

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We generally don’t like people “moving the furniture.” Things that take some getting used to aren’t what we’re used to.

Have you traveled along I-94 in the Monticello-St.Cloud area recently? More than 150 huge transmission towers are going up as part of the CapX 2020 project. The next phase will add towers all the way from St. Cloud to Fargo. They’re 140-170 feet tall and are spaced every 1,000 feet. They’re an eyesore, perhaps as much as when I-94 first bulldozed its way across the state.

Ten years from now, we probably won’t notice they’re there. Until someone sticks solar panels on them.

(Utility pole photo from sameold2010 via Flickr)

  • Jim B.

    This is an example of what is, I think, the real obstacle towards renewable energy sources. Not the government, not the oil companies, but the simple fact that people don’t want to have to look at it. People on the whole always seem very supportive of wind and solar in the abstract, then fight it when it’ll be located where they can see it. My question is what would you most like to have next door to you? A wind turbine, a solar panel, or a coal-fired power plant? None of the above isn’t really an option. I think you hit the nail on the head, Bob: “eyesore” just means “different.” I think the idea of solar panels on poles that are there anyway is a great idea. Do you think it’d make a difference if the power company promised to also paint the poles green?

  • Tyler

    FYI – I’m all for dry cask nuclear storage in my back yard, if it means more nuclear power plants being built. And $100 a month, of course.

  • John P.

    Right on the money, Bob.

    I heard the same discussions when cell towers were going up. Now, complaints from people who don’t have good coverage are a lot more common.

  • Mark Snyder

    Jim B. has it exactly right. Having lived downwind of a coal-fired power plant until it was repowered to natural gas last year, I’d much prefer having a wind turbine or solar panel in my back yard.

    Anyone who’s dumb enough to think otherwise should be forced to spend a week or so living out by Sherco or one of the other remaining coal plants to see what it’s like.

  • http://base0.net Michael Janssen

    It seems to me that the power companies have the answer to their problem right there, except for a possible engineering problem: they probably have thousands of those huge transmission towers that could hold a lot of these panels.

    Honestly I think it’s not a bad idea to put them in the neighborhoods themselves. It’s a reminder that energy isn’t free, and that getting it from the sun is better than the other alternatives.

  • bsimon

    If only there were large amounts of impermiable surfaces, out of sight & exposed to extensive sunlight near where people & businesses consume power. Then we could put the solar panels there & minimize the need for transmission lines between remote power generators & power consumers.

    On the transmission lines;

    After someone pointed out to me long ago that we become accustomed to the eyesores of transmission lines, they stick out to me like so many sore thumbs. Every time I drive down Hiawatha, I want to take them out. Or looking at the river downtown (Mpls) – it’s quite scenic if you can ignore the hideous, enormous power lines running through the scene.

    I apologize in advance if I have now afflicted others with the same curse.

  • Jeff

    The power lines in neighborhoods aren’t the problem. The real problem is how they have to trim the trees that grow below them, making them into a giant “Y”. Now THAT is ugly.

    I’d much rather have to look at oil spills (on the TV) or radioactive wastelands (on the TV) or deforested mountains where the coal is mined (on the TV) than ugly trees in MY NEIGHBORHOOD any day. We can’t bury the power lines if we have solar panels them.

  • BJ

    I wonder what those small solar panels even power.

    Ones that appear simular sized power some of the wireless internet around the metro (st louis park for example). Those produce only enough for 1 small electronic device.

  • Bob Collins

    //I wonder what those small solar panels even power.

    220 watts.

  • Dave

    Hi.

    I saw the article about the solar cells on the utility poles. I agree they don’t look pleasing to look at. The ones I saw were mounted horizontal, in contrast to the vertical utility pole. Has thought been given to mounting them vertically? The ones I saw were the standard panels that looked almost square (something like 2′ x 4′). Since the utility poles are much longer than they are wide, could solar cells be designed more like the shape of the poles (1′ x 8′) to be less noticeable?