Trollinger: Summit Cove solar flare-up an opportunity for conversation on community priorities | SummitDaily.com

Trollinger: Summit Cove solar flare-up an opportunity for conversation on community priorities

Summit Daily News managing editor Ben Trollinger.

In Summit County, we want chickens in our backyards, but not solar panels.

It reminds me of Walt Whitman’s turn of phrase: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

We want to support efforts we believe are good for our planet — like producing a bit of our own food and reducing our involvement in a food distribution system marinated in oil — and we also want to create beautiful communities we love and want to see grow and thrive. Those two things aren’t always compatible, as we’re now seeing in the flare-up over the elementary school solar array (or “garden”) in Summit Cove.

The Cove residents who have written to the Summit Daily News about the project say they support alternative, sustainable energy. However, they believe the solar panels are garish and greatly diminish Soda Creek wetlands, a beloved neighborhood green space. Residents also take issue with the school district’s efforts (or lack thereof) to involve the community in the process.

Those are legitimate concerns and should not be dismissed as the reactionary sentiments of selfish, anti-environmentalist NIMBYs.

Solar power may be our energy future, but is this particular array right for Summit Cove? Does it enhance or lessen the quality of life there? Just because you ask those questions doesn’t mean you’re a blight on the earth. It means you care about your neighborhood.

Whitman saw the world in a blade of grass, and we legislate from our lawns — and that’s OK.

NIMBYism gets a bad rap, but don’t underestimate the power of the backyard and what’s in it.

Ultimately, people are stirred to political action when an issue visits their doorstep, when it impacts them and theirs — not when they hear numbing statistics. Climate change isn’t your concern until a drought has erased all hope for your family farm. We love cheap consumer goods until the exhaust of a oil refinery gives our children asthma.

We in Summit County see ourselves as environmentally conscientious ambassadors to the world. Paragons of sustainability. Captain Planets on ten-speeds. But we also like electricity on demand, AWD vehicles and iPhones. We like unobstructed mountain views and the vision of wildlife browsing our shrubs.

However, we don’t want the infrastructure that makes that lifestyle possible for us — the coal plants, the soot-belching factories in China, the tanker trucks (like the ones that dump fuel onto Loveland Pass), the shipping containers carrying food from South America, the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, the towering wind farms in eastern Colorado — we don’t want those things blocking our view and darkening our air.

There’s a reason we live here and not Houston or Guangdong Province. We pay a premium to live in a pristine alpine environment that offers every outdoor activity imaginable.

However, there is a problem with this. Jonathan Ive, Apple’s resident genius of product design, defined it perfectly when he said, “When something exceeds your ability to understand how it works, it sort of becomes magical.”

The energy that flows into our homes is such a magic. We’ve buried the infrastructure that powers our homes so effectively that we run the risk losing the connection to where it comes from, how it’s made and who makes it. Like the iPhone, the guts — the wires, the electrodes, the precious metals mined in faraway places — are cleverly disguised.

We all have a vague notion that our smartphone is made somewhere in China and that the working conditions there might be questionable, but, hey, check out my new altimeter app!

We want energy independence, we want more robust forms of sustainable power production, but we want it to happen like magic, site unseen, in a land far, far away. We don’t want a pumpjack bobbing up and down in front of our kitchen window, and we don’t want to pave paradise and put up an industrial solar array.

The problem in Summit Cove’s case is one of scale. Having a few solar panels on your home won’t likely stir up the neighborhood. Nor would a small brood of chickens. Living next to egg farm, on the other hand, even an organic one, wouldn’t likely raise your spirits or your home value.

At some point soon, though, we need to talk frankly about how we plan to power our future and what we’re willing to live with and next door to.


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