Solar power has emerged as a viable, cost-efficient and environmentally friendly source of electricity. Who could argue against solar panels converting natureâ€™s sunlight into kilowatts, with a fraction of the pollution that belching power plants using fossil fuels like coal, oil or natural gas to make electricity have historically produced?
â€śHarvestingâ€ť solar power must not be misconstrued as â€śfarming.â€ť There are no barns, animals, food productions, nor bucolic farmsteads. Solar installations are inert industrial production sites that, once installed, only need occasional visits from technicians to manage the equipment and production. While necessary, they take up a lot of room and should be thoughtfully installed away from more productive endeavors.
Buffalo recently had a proposal to install solar panels withdrawn. The industrial power array of 12,000 panels will not be placed in a fenced-off 23 acres of Unity Islandâ€™s waterfront parkland between Black Rock Channel and the Niagara River.
Any unique waterfront site is not a good spot for a solar installation. This rare, publicly accessible open waterfront land had already been won back from its previous life as Buffaloâ€™s garbage incinerator, a dirty operation that produced filthy spoils along the cityâ€™s finite waterfront.
In 1997, the City of Buffalo, Erie County and New York State officials, along with community volunteers, all worked together to successfully raise $15 million in a state-funded cleanup. In 2001, the city put the property into the public trust, for perpetuity, and dedicated this area as park land.
Buffalo, like cities worldwide, has realized that connecting to waterfronts and creating parks are essential civic acts that create healthier environments, recreational opportunities, increasing the quality of life and property values.
That is why Buffaloâ€™s Comprehensive Plan and Green Code promote green space and designate this very area as open space, and for Phase 2 development of Unity Park that complements the highly successful and heavily used Phase 1 Unity Island park development.
Our electric grid allows efficient movement of power generated elsewhere. There are many other sites in and around Buffalo where solar panel arrays could be installed: massive roof structures like the Tesla plant (how were solar panels forgotten on top of a solar plant?), permanent huge brownfields like the Lake Ontario Ordnance Works, Model City, Love Canal, surplus industrial land like the GM plantâ€™s parking lots in Tonawanda and otherwise unused old factory/tra.
Western New York is home to more than 800 Superfund sites, some unusable for hundreds of years. Our creative thinkers, planners, engineers, government and business people can identify and use such sites and save the unique and irreplaceable places and spaces for the public like those at Unity Island forever.
Mark Kubiniec is a member of the Board of Directors of the Black Rock Riverside Alliance.
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