Chester Board Blasted Over Solar Panels

July 29, 2012 by  
Filed under Solar Energy Tips


How many people would volunteer to put this in their front yard?  

Row upon row of industrial-sized solar panels and supporting framework, over an acre in area, reaching nearly 14+feet high from ground level at their peak, surrounded by an 8-foot black chain-link fence.  I

f you are one of the few (if any) who go for industrial-style landscape decoration, with a prison-like motif, then contact the Chester Board of Education and volunteer as soon as possible. Razor-wire atop the fence is optional at your expense. 

The foregoing is only half in jest, there is no razor-wire option. 

Without much notice or fanfare, and without any genuine ability of local municipal officials to truly regulate the installation, the Chester Board of Education has contracted for the installation of industrial-sized solar arrays at Dickerson and Bragg elementary schools. 

Anyone familiar with the schools knows there is preciously little open usable space at the schools.  There are no ball fields, or soccer fields.  Most of what little open space is there will in the next several weeks, be filled with industrial-sized solar arrays. The solar arrays at their peak will be in excess of 14-feet high, and will be surrounded by an 8-foot high black chain link fence.  The field behind Black River Middle School and next to the Chester Pool will also be filled with the same. Enjoy the view of democracy in action while you relax at the pool. 

Expect the Board of Education to modestly avoid taking credit.

The goal is laudable enough; reduce the school energy costs over the next 15 years. The problem is the execution of the idea by the Board of Education. Of particularly questionable judgment by the Board of Education is forcing the solar arrays into the field between the parking lot in front of Dickerson and along Route 24. 

There isn’t enough room in this commentary to describe all of the details of how the Board of Education decided to make the front of Dickerson School a solar power generation facility. The short answer is that locating the solar arrays in front of Dickerson was necessary to maximize the profit for the solar energy company that will generate the power. When the solar energy company demanded more space and threatened to walk away from the project unless they got more space for more solar panels, the Board of Education folded like wet cardboard and offered up the front of Dickerson School – the last usable open space on the school property. 

Now you might be asking, how does it make sense that the Morris County Improvement Authority will own the solar array – not the Board of Education, even though it will be built on our school property?  You might ask why a for-profit power company gets paid (with profit) to build the solar array on our school property, then gets to lease the solar-array at favorable rates  (not from us but from the Morris County Improvement Authority) so it can sell the power to our schools – again at a profit?  You might ask why should public school property be licensed out to a for-profit enterprise?  If any of the foregoing has occurred to you, then as far as the Chester Board of Education is concerned, you are much too educated and ask too many questions. They know what is best.

As to any questions you might have about the visual and psychological impact to making our schools a solar power generating facility, you are not qualified under the law to second-guess the collective wisdom of the Chester Board of Education. For that august body has made the determination that potentially saving money on future power purchases should be pursued above all other considerations, and that it is in your best interests to lease out the school property to a for-profit enterprise for industrial-sized solar power generation. 

Consider the following. For the location in front of Dickerson School along Route 24, the black chain-link fence will run approximately 700-feet. The solar array to be located there will take up most of the field – about two acres or more, with a small play area allowed which will be bordered by the fencing on two sides – so the children can play right alongside the fence and in the shadow of the solar panels. The arrays will jut out from the elevated portions of the field and will top out between 14 and 15 feet above Route 24, which will be 6 to 7 feet above the height of the fencing. 

The industrial fencing and solar arrays will be the first thing you see when you enter the Dickerson/Bragg property, and the last thing you see when you leave. It will also provide a lovely view for the exit from the front door of Dickerson. 

For the children coming and going on school buses every day, the clear message is that grass, trees, and the playing field they (used to) hold their field days on, are not so important.  Though there have been promises by the Board of Education to landscape the area to “soften” the impact, it remains to be seen how you can hide with landscaping a solar array acres in volume, with structures inside in excess of 14-feet high, surrounded by a black, 8-foot high, chain-link fence around the entire perimeter – which by the way will come within 3 feet of the parking lot.

The Board of Education has been given free reign under the law to industrialize the school property without interference by the Chester Township Planning Board.  The politics of the interactions at the municipal level are too involved to relate here.  The ultimate result is that the Board of Education is so myopically focused on the “bottom-line,” that there is apparently no sacrifice that won’t be considered in the name of budgeting and a green revolution – even if it means getting rid of all the greenery.  The Board of Education (once again) has acted in a manner to make the Dormouse in Alice in Wonderland proud, for “they live at the bottom of a well and are leaning to draw all manner of things that begin with an M…”

Brian Curley

Chester Township

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