Friday, August 03, 2007

Solar home or 'monstrosity'?

Maine Today
By ALLISON ROSS, Staff Writer
July 24, 2007

SCARBOROUGH — All Laurence Gardner wanted to do was help protect the environment, but residents of the Grondin Pond and Woodview subdivisions say he created a "monstrosity."

"Solar panels in your house are one thing. That would be wonderful," said Jill Milligan, who lives at 5 Woodview Drive, just down the street from five free-standing solar panels that Gardner installed in his yard. "But this looks just like the movie with Jodie Foster in it. You know, with the aliens and such."

Gardner and his wife, Alison Noiles, put up the 10-foot-tall metal poles equipped with photovoltaic panels at 11 Woodview Drive to do their part to reduce their carbon footprint on the environment. They can't understand why a dozen of their neighbors turned out for Wednesday's Town Council meeting to argue that the structures in a neighbor's yard are an eyesore.

"It's beyond our understanding how anyone would object to a solar-panel house in 2007," Gardner said. "Someone called the panels a 'monstrosity.' But my family and I, we think they're beautiful. I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

Gardner said Wednesday's meeting was the first time he and his family had heard that anyone was upset.

"I would think they'd be grateful to prevent the rise of pollution in Scarborough," he said.

Walter Laqualia, whose house on Clearwater Drive looks across the lake at the solar panels, said he spoke with a real estate agent who said the solar panels could devalue his property as much as 50 percent.

"It's just unbelievable that something like this could be constructed in such a beautiful neighborhood," he said.

Laqualia said the Town Council should have informed the neighborhood before allowing the structures to be built. He hopes councilors will put a moratorium on solar and wind-power projects until they create an ordinance to protect neighboring landowners.

"This could happen to anyone," Laqualia said. "You could go home at night, and there's a possibility of you having a windmill or five telephone poles with solar panels sitting on a neighbor's front lawn."

Town Manager Ron Owens said that, even if the Town Council does decide to enact some sort of ordinance to regulate alternative power constructions, it would not affect the panels on Grondin Pond retroactively.

"This is a tricky area," Owens said. "There's an interest in promoting alternative energy sources. So, if you regulate solar energy, it makes it less efficient and attractive to people who are thinking about trying alternative-energy ideas."

At the council meeting Wednesday, several residents said they plan to research whether the structures somehow violate the neighborhood's covenant, in hopes of filing a lawsuit. They wanted the town's help, but Owens said residents would have to pursue that matter privately.

Gardner said he can't believe his neighbors plan to continue fighting the structures at a time when there's so much concern about the world's environment.

"A lot of people who are complaining now probably think they're environmentalists," Gardner said. "Everyone wants to be green, but no one wants to actually do it."

In addition to helping the environment, the $98,000 system -- which has an estimated life of 25 years -- will help Gardner and his family cut down on electricity costs. He expects to provide 1,400 kilowatt hours a month to Central Maine Power Co., which should offset most of his family's energy bill.

Owens said he knew the permit request would be controversial, especially after it was approved June 11.

"There's always this pull and tug between technology and what technology looks like when you employ it," Owens said. "It's just like when people first started putting up satellite dishes on their homes and yards, and it's something we're likely to see more of in the future."

Staff Writer Allison Ross can be contacted at 791-6451 or at:

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