How much solar is too much?

Mar 4, 2011

Clifton Park, outside Albany, is voting on whether or not solar panels will be allowed in residential neighborhoods, reports Tim O'Brien at the Times Union:

The proposed law would require a home owner to get a special use permit from the town's Planning Board to build a ground- or pole-mounted solar array. The rule would apply in any neighborhood with homes but not in solely commercial areas. It would not affect rooftop solar panels.

"This proposed legislation is a good, common-sense measure to make sure we are prepared for future installations," Supervisor Phil Barrett said. "We didn't want to get to a point where we want to prohibit these installations from occurring, but at the same time we felt that there should be a more stringent approval process."

Rather than lay out specific guidelines for how tall a solar array can be or how far it must be set back from neighbors, the proposed rules give the Planning Commission broad discretion to make those decisions on a case by case basis.

The issue arose when a couple in Clifton Park installed a solar array that’s so big that they’re now selling energy back to the grid.  But when the neighbors complained, and the town didn’t have anything on the books to respond with, the issue went to town council.

Fracking
Jim Efstathiou Jr. and Kim Chipman at Bloomberg Businessweek have a look at the Obama' administration's relationship with what it calls "the great shale gas rush," following the New York Times' fracking pieces:

The White House has sent mixed signals. "It's not necessarily federal regulation that will be needed," EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson told a Feb. 3 Senate hearing, noting that many communities and states already monitor parts of the process. Energy Secretary Steven Chu seems to differ. In a 2010 speech, he said fracking can be "polluting" and that rules were inevitable. "We continue to believe that state regulatory agencies have the appropriate expertise" to oversee gas production, says Dan Whitten, a spokesman for America's Natural Gas Alliance.

Even if the EPA stepped in, its authority would be limited. A clause in a 2005 energy law—dubbed the "Halliburton (HAL) loophole" for the company that helped pioneer fracking and is a supplier of fracking fluids—exempts fracking from parts of the Safe Drinking Water Act. Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) says Dick Cheney, once head of Halliburton, pushed for the exemption when he was Vice-President. Hinchey's evidence is circumstantial: Fracking was endorsed in Cheney's 2001 energy task force report, which led to the 2005 law and, according to Waxman, did not reflect the EPA's initial concerns about water pollution. Cheney declined to comment. Halliburton referred a request for comment to its website, which doesn't discuss fracking's risks.

Who killed the road?
It could be the electric car, posits Eric Jaffe at Infrastructurist, unless states step in to figure out how to sustain maintenance:

American roads are maintained largely (and quite poorly) through the gas tax, a user fee that owners of electric cars — with no need to stop at the pump — will avoid. The situation has some people shouting this isn’t fair!, a la nihilists from “The Big Lebowski.” That crowd includes state Senators from Washington, who have proposed a bill that would charge new electric buyers a $100 fee to compensate.

Washington State is considering a distance-based taxation system so that electric driver can't skip out on their bill.  But that could dampen adoption of electric vehicles.

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