We Shouldn't Care That a Couple of Rich Suburbanites Don't Like Solar Panels on Their Street We Shouldn't Care That a Couple of Rich Suburbanites Don't Like Solar Panels on Their Street
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We Shouldn't Care That a Couple of Rich Suburbanites Don't Like Solar Panels on Their Street

by Ben Jervey

April 30, 2011

On Wednesday, the New York Times ran a provocative piece on solar NIMBYism ("not in my backyard") in suburban New Jersey. Or, since the story hinges on a handful of complaints about solar panels on streetside telephone poles, maybe we should call it a case of "not in my front yard" protest. I'm annoyed with this article on a couple levels.

First, I think this is one of those occasions where the New York Times is projecting a trend out of a very small data set. (This is something the paper's "Style" section has made a cottage industry out of.) Yes, in a couple of quite affluent New Jersey suburbs some residents with little else to worry about have sent letters of discontent to local papers. The Times smells controversy, crosses the river and finds a handful of Jersey residents to comment, and projects a trend where there really isn't one.

I have, actually, talked to a number of people in suburban New Jersey about these very same streetside panels. On a visit down there last Fall, I was impressed to find them, so I asked everyone I could what they think. (New Jersey is actually a underrated leader in solar power, so I'm often annoying my Garden State friends with solar queries.) Of the dozen or so people I've specifically asked about the panels—including an outspoken conservative couple who always vote Republican—literally none of them have had a negative word to say. To be fair, I wasn't spending my time in the high-falutin towns that the article focuses on. (The median household incomes and housing prices in Oradell , Ridgewood, and Fair Lawn, the three towns featured in the article, are all well above the New Jersey averages, and in some cases double them.) So if there is a trend to be taken seriously in New Jersey, it's not that Garden Staters are up in arms about solar panels on their telephone poles, its that a small handful of super rich Garden Staters are making a lot of noise about it because they have little else to worry about.

To those people, I say: get over it.

Seriously, read the first paragraph of the article:

Nancy and Eric Olsen could not pinpoint exactly when it happened or how. All they knew was one moment they had a pastoral view of a soccer field and the woods from their 1920s colonial-style house; the next all they could see were three solar panels.

That's the photo the Times ran, from Fair Lawn. If you want a "pastoral view," don't live in suburban New Jersey. If you want to run your refrigerator and flatscreen, charge all your dozens of gadgets, and make sure that your kids have clean air to breathe and a safe climate to grow up in, then deal with the electrical infrastructure that all those things demand.

Ben Jervey More Info

Ben is a writer and editor covering climate change, energy, and environment, and is currently the Climate and Energy Media Fellow at Vermont Law School. He was the original Environment Editor at GOOD Magazine and his work has appeared regularly in National Geographic News, Grist, DeSmogBlog, and OnEarth. He recently worked with the non-profit Focus the Nation to publish an Energy 101 primer. When living in New York City, he wrote a book, The Big Green Apple, on how to live a lower impact life in the city. A bicycle enthusiast, Ben has ridden across the United States and through much of Europe.
Some recent articles by Ben Jervey:
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We Shouldn't Care That a Couple of Rich Suburbanites Don't Like Solar Panels on Their Street