On Dec. 5, the Poughkeepsie Town Board agreed to have a hearing regarding the “Energy Facilities and Systems Moratorium” Local Law, a resolution that would temporarily prohibit the installation of wind power or solar power energy systems on residential property.
Citing “Matters of Local Concern” on the Poughkeepsie Zoning Office document, the Town Board explained its reasoning: “Although the development of sustainable energy systems to capture wind and solar power for residential and commercial use is desirable as a green energy alternative, the Town Board of the Town of Poughkeepsie has determined that the placement and location of such facilities is of concern.”
The Town Board went on to specify that concern in the same document. “Ill-planned wind and solar power facilities may significantly reduce or impair the visual quality of residential and non-residential areas.” The emphasis, as previously reported in the 12.05.12 issue of The Poughkeepsie Journal (“Town of Poughkeepsie wants a timeout on wind, solar power”), is the concern that the installation or improper installation of wind and solar energy systems could cause a drop in property values in the residential area.
As co-President of the Vassar Greens Jillian Guenther ’13 said in an emailed statement, “It seems that the core of this proposal is the idea that alternative energy will lower property values and/or drive away residents. I think this is a reflection of deeper ideas about what sort of community Poughkeepsie is.”
Karmen Buckey, a zoning board member, told the Poughkeepsie Journal in response to a recent case involving a homeowner who wanted to install solar panels in his front yard, that while she was in favor of solar energy, she thought the panels would detract from the appearance of the neighborhood.
Alistair Hall ’11, the Sustainability Assistant to the Resource Conservation Fund at Vassar, spoke to the issue of wind power. “As I understand it, frankly, wind power in the Poughkeepsie area isn’t a useful option. We don’t have strong enough wind potential for it to be really effective. So if there is someone considering a wind turbine, I think there needs to be a discussion. Is it just vanity? Is it just symbolic?”
In response to the issue of solar power, Hall questioned the motivations for someone who wanted to install solar panels in his front yard. “Is it because they want everybody to see that they have solar panels?” He then posed the question to homemakers: “Given your property, where does it make the most sense to put them?”
Guenther echoed this concern: “The real obstacle for both wind turbines and solar panels in residential areas is how efficient they will be given the surrounding area (trees or other things blocking the wind/sun, things like that). This has to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.”
Hall criticized the Moratorium for being unnecessary. According to him, any concerns stemming from the appearance of the neighborhood are already handled. “For any residential installation, you’re going to have these localized zoning board meetings anyway. And there you would address, ‘Is it really worth having solar panels in your front yard? Is it because of geography and where the most impact would be or is it because you want them to look cool?’”
Guenther also speaks to the concern about the appearance of the neighborhood. She said in an emailed statement: “I would like to note that scenic views and sense of place are really important to Hudson Valley culture, especially around the River, so on one hand it is very important to consider that.”
She continued, “[However] I’m not sure that scenic views are an issue within residential neighborhoods where views are not physically visible anyway. So what they’re actually getting at is whether the appearance of the wind turbine/solar panel is bothering a neighbor.”
While Hall states that the installation of residential alternative energy systems in Poughkeepsie should begin with a real conversation, he emphasizes the benefits of alternative energy generation in residential areas. “If I have a solar panel in my back yard, if I’m not using electricity during the day when the sun is out, it means I could be generating more power than I’m using. The net meter which records my energy usage could spin backwards and the utility company pays me instead. It’s one of the main ways that reusable energy can make financial sense.”
Hall goes on to discuss the ways in which the Town of Poughkeepsie deals with other questions of alternative energy. “As this is going on, there is an effort to create a regional sustainability master plan for the Hudson Valley—energy generation is a big part of it—and as the discussion has been going on, it’s sort of come to the forefront that a lot of these smaller towns already have local plans and Poughkeepsie hasn’t even breached the subject yet.”
Asked about the way in which Poughkeepsie responds to alternative energy initiatives launched by other towns in the Hudson Valley, Hall said, “I think it’s kind of silly because a lot of our neighbors are very much on board with this but we’ve been seeing some resistance on this from the city government level. We should just get on board as well.”
Hall concluded by confirming that while alternative energy systems are good for the environment, Poughkeepsie residents shouldn’t all decide to construct wind turbines and solar panels in their back yards. “On a residential level, I think energy efficiency is much more effective.”