Shepherdstown is special not only for being a historic town, but also for being a forward-looking community. That's why developing solar power in town will be a thorny issue: we know we must promote sustainable energy development, but we don't want to do so at the expense of the historic character of our town. But as I listened to the Planning Commission deny a proposed solar panel project for a private residence this week, it seemed obvious that the current guidelines are ill-equipped to address this complex issue. And clearly the current guidelines provide little hope for fair treatment of residents as the list of applications for solar power continues to grow - an inevitability given the economic, environmental, and social benefits of solar power.
The current rules stipulate that solar panels should be "in areas not readily visible" to the public but doesn't define this in operational terms. Should street-facing roofs on German Street be covered with solar panels? I don't think so. But should we deny residents their solar potential on New Street, Princess Street, and elsewhere because those roofs may be partially visible to the public? Certainly not.
My wife and I have seen our energy bills cut in half by installing solar panels on Washington Street, and I don't think we have the right to deny others this opportunity.
To me, seeing solar panels is not an offense but a symbol of energy independence and conservation. I wouldn't want to see solar panels everywhere in town, but they will be visible in some places - and that should be a badge of pride for our community. Thoughtfully placed solar panels will not jeopardize our historic town, but will strengthen our commitment to sustainability and demonstrate our leadership in West Virginia and the nation.
Let's revisit the current guidelines to make this happen.
Sustainable Shepherdstown - Energy Working Group