, Newburyport, MA

April 9, 2013

Finding compromises with wind, solar projects

Newburyport Daily News

---- — Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we figured out a way to produce electricity without creating pollution — either the type we breathe in or the type our eyes observe?

We haven’t been able to do that yet, and so it is important to figure out ways to reach compromises that get us closer to that spot.

The debate over plans to install a solar panel “farm” in Newbury is just the latest chapter in the struggle to find that solution. No one can fault the people of Newbury for their negative reaction to a 15-acre array of solar panels on the Pikul farm, off Scotland Road. It’s located in one of the region’s most pastoral areas, an enormous tract of farmland in what is known as the Common Pasture.

But property owners also have a right to develop their property within established guidelines, and solar farms — as well as wind turbines — are one of the latest options that are suddenly springing up on the local landscape.

Solar farms are not attractive to the eye. They are a high-tech blight on the landscape. One need look only as far as the massive solar farm in Salisbury to see that.

But they also hold a promise of creating a renewable source of power. The Newbury solar farm is predicted to produce enough electricity to power 4,000 homes. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to what the Seabrook nuclear power plant can produce, but it is a significant advancement over where solar technology was a decade ago.

It’s abundantly clear that in the long run we are better off finding renewable sources of energy to augment, if not someday replace, the coal and nuclear plants that we have relied upon for so long.

Coal is the dirtiest of energy producers, contributing to the poor air quality that often plagues this region in the hot summer months, and the acid rain that has detrimentally impacted our lakes, ponds and rivers. It also leaves a permanent scar on the landscape. In the Appalachians, majestic and ancient mountains are literally ripped down to extract the coal that lies beneath them.

Nuclear plants run cleaner, yet they produce the worst waste of all. At nuclear plants such as Seabrook’s, large quantities of spent nuclear fuel rods are stored on-site in huge concrete casks. They will remain toxic for millennia.

Solar farms and wind turbines are temporary manmade blights that will remain with us for as long as their technology remains valid and their mechanical processes keep working. They will disappear someday, replaced with something that works better and creates less eye pollution.

We’re better off in the long term finding compromises with wind and solar power, rather than rejecting it outright.