Friday, September 04, 2009

The Taking of Worthington Park

About a year ago, with much fanfare, County Executive Ken Ulman announced that the county would be creating a “solar farm” on Worthington Park next to Worthington Elementary School in Ellicott City.

Personally, I wasn’t real happy about this program. The site he chose is the best part of my morning running route. It is also happens to be a county park.

It wasn’t always a park. Worthington Park was created on what used to be the county dump before it was moved to Alpha Ridge.

After all the years that this neighborhood bore the indignity of hosting the county’s garbage this plan seems patently unfair. The old dump has since been capped and the land has been turned over to the Department of Recreation and Parks. Now comes news that county is seeking proposals from private energy developers to develop a “solar farm” on the most accessible piece of the park.
This morning, like most mornings, folks like Jenny and her dog Bo were out for a morning stroll around the half mile gravel loop road that rings the top of the former landfill.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for clean solar power. The problem is that the energy generated by a 7 acre solar farm is pretty insignificant. It will basically provide some but certainly not all of the energy needs of Worthington Elementary School. This effort smells more like a public relations stunt than a serious effort towards energy conservation.

I had actually hoped that this project had died a quiet death, a victim to county budget cuts. Unfortunately it lives. The county will soon be issuing a Request for Proposals from private firms to move this forward. If all goes according to plan, the taking of Worthington Park could begin in the next year.


Anonymous said...

You'd be ok if it were a Wegman's or Harris Teeter, but what a drag, solar power.

wordbones said...

Anon 12:30 PM,

I know its hard but try to keep up.


cmb said...

Doesn't seem very green to take away neighborhood green space! Perhaps "solar farming" should be added to the allowable uses for farms entering the agricultural preservation program. Would add an incentive and keep commercial enterprises off of public land.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you WB.
Why waste good park area with solar panels or windmills spread across the park when the return is miniscule. I think we should again look at placing windmills off the coast of Hyannisport where the economic return and energy formation is significant. Also we should probably rescind the $861,000,000 loan to Petrobras in Brazil to drill for oil when we can spend it developing our own resources in Alaska, Florida or California.

Freemarket said...

I like how Ulman and the County Council seem to have all the resources in the world to give parkland to a private business for a solar farm, build a $30 million library or some other PR stunt, all while more people who pay for these things with their tax dollars are turning to help from the food bank. This shows how truly disconnected from reality politicians are, and how wastefully they spend our money.

Anonymous said...

I was surprised to find wb, while critical of some open space advocates, hadn't himself used the NIMBY tag in previous discussions on this blog. HH, you, however, have twice. But this is a good opportunity to refrain from such unhelpful labeling and instead, rightly, consider what's best and most responsible for the remaining preserved parks and open space within our communities.

Could someone please explain why this complex really needs to be placed at that location?

Applying the term "farm" to this type of utility installation seems misplaced, as does losing parkland for siting this type of installation. Such facilities can and should instead be placed in brownfield space, not green space. That same company has struck deals to put similar facilities on top of Staples and other stores. Southern Cal Edison is building distributed solar generation on multiple commercial buildings across California, totaling 250 MW power output from about 1500 acres of rooftops.

"the energy generated by a 7 acre solar farm is pretty insignificant"

Correct. That would be about 0.01% of a modern 500 MW power plant, enough to power maybe 40 average-size homes? At $0.11 per kW hr, those 548,000 kW/yr equal about $60k/yr generated. I wonder what the ROI term would be for such a project.

"This effort smells more like a public relations stunt..."

At best, the community could view it as a means to see first hand small-scale solar energy production, which does reduce reliance on more problematic energy production methods. Then again, quite a few homes around the county have had some solar panels on their roofs for decades already. But, if this larger scale, but still relatively modest type of installation is needed in Ellicott City for demonstration/learning purposes, why not put it on top of Long Gate's Staples and other bigbox stores? It wouldn't be quite 7 acres in size, might cost more to place, and would require stairs to access and a platform to view, but would also be in a place where a lot more of the public, because of the shopping traffic, would see and be reminded of our energy and environmental challenges.

"... than a serious effort towards energy conservation."

It's not conservation at all - it's additional generation. HH, the answer doesn't lie in just 'drill baby drill' or siting greener, but still impactful energy production facilities in other still natural areas.

The county, instead of playing the small fish in creating megawatts, could instead be the big fish for creating "nega-"watts, devoting much more focus to being a leader in elevating public, commercial, and residential building codes (not just LEED Silver) to conserve huge amounts of energy by requiring, among other things:
- much better insulation,
- passive HVAC and lighting,
- more efficient HVAC and appliances,
- and installation of smart meters,
thereby allowing residents and commercial occupants to know in real-time their energy consumption, displaying in simple terms the amount of energy consumed, the cost of that energy, and the amount of CO2 produced, based on their chosen energy supply mix.

Will your building in Emerson have such smart meters in each tenant's space? If not, why not?