By Ted AYALA
As energy costs and consciousness of the disadvantages of using fossil fuels rise, more businesses and private homeowners are turning a glance to energy sources that were considered too experimental or not viable even in the recent past. The Glendale Unified School District is among the many organizations embracing a cleaner alternative. In this case, solar power.
The district recently announced the erection and installation of solar panels at seven of its campuses. Local schools slated to receive solar panels are Crescenta Valley High School, Rosemont Middle School, Mountain Avenue Elementary, and Monte Vista Elementary.
Though such a move would usually garner wide praise, not everyone is happy with GUSD’s plan for solar power.
“Now honestly the school has been a good neighbor so far,” said resident Herb Poppe, who is leading a group that is opposed to the solar panels, and whose home would directly face the panels scheduled to be installed at Monte Vista.
“But that they chose to go with this plan in this way ¬– it’s mind boggling.”
At the heart of his and other neighboring residents’ concerns are aesthetic issues concerning the panels and whether the heat reflected off the panels would affect homes in the panels’ sight lines. But an even larger problem for these residents is the manner in which the district proceeded to inform the public.
“There was never any community discussion about these panels,” said Poppe. “Their idea of community outreach included announcing this project in PTA meetings, talking about (it) in school newsletters, and making a brief announcement about them in local papers. But a lot of us don’t have kids in school. The way their notice appeared in local papers, it was easy to overlook if you weren’t actually aware of it. What they should have done is come out to the homes of residents that would be potentially affected by this and talk to us. But that never happened.”
Poppe expressed worry not only with the effect the panels would have on his own home, which, he said, would greatly obstruct his view, but what it could mean for his neighborhood.
“At this point, GUSD has no renderings or mock photos of what the project would ultimately look like upon completion,” Poppe explained. “We don’t know what’s going to happen ¬– and that’s got us frustrated.”
Steve Frasher, GUSD’s Public Information Officer, addressed some of these concerns and assured that the worries over any potential problems that the solar panels may cause are exaggerated.
“There’s no doubt that they’ll be a feature on the horizon,” he said. “But it’s not going to be a dominant one. With the way the panels will be positioned, not to mention the sloping downward of the surrounding homes, these panels will literally only be visible if you actually look directly up at them.”
Frasher also dismissed the idea that the heat reflected from the panels could be a problem for surrounding homes.
“Prior to my work in the GUSD I had worked in Riverside [as their Public Information Officer],” recalled Frasher. “Heat and light reflected off the panels had never been an issue there.”
When asked whether the GUSD should have consulted local residents more directly on the matter, Frasher replied that it was “not required.”
“This project does predate my time here with the GUSD,” he said. “But I understand that the district went through the standard procedures for this sort of project. So contacts regarding this kind of construction usually are made through the PTA and the school.”
Frasher also added that the solar panels, which are scheduled to be up and running by the first day of school this August, represent a significant step forward for the district to do its part towards using cleaner energy, as well as reaping the savings the solar panels will bring.
“Just on the first year alone we’re projected to save over $500,000,” he noted. “Over the lifetime of the panels – about 30 years – the district will be saving over $18 million. These aren’t smoke stacks. Solar energy is a quiet, clean source of energy. For the district it represents a transition to a 21st century way of getting its energy needs met.”
But with cement meant for the base of the panels scheduled to be poured on Wednesday, June 27, and a GUSD meeting today, there is little hope of reversing the project or of striking some kind of compromise. Poppe and his neighbors are resigned to the inevitable building of the panels.
“We wish we could stop the project until at least after the meeting [today],” Poppe said. “Now with the concrete poured in, it’ll be virtually impossible to move them. What we’d at least like is that they move the panels to another site on the school. They have a lot of room.”