This blog is about my own journey to sustainability—getting outside of the box and being more authentically human. It’s about not viewing 'wealth' as money, but as something much more holistic and broad. The ideas presented here come from my newest book, The Good Life: How to Create a Sustainable and Fulfilling Lifestyle.

Friday, January 27, 2012

What is That Thing in Your Yard?

After months of wrestling with the County Building Department about permits and codes, excruciating financial gymnastics and down and dirty back-breaking spadework, we finally got our solar installation up. It’s a massive 3 kw (stc) photovoltaic pole mount.

We feel like we created the best of two worlds, too, since we live way back in the woods while, at the same time, are generating a lot of electricity. We inscribed a Sun Mantra, OM Suryaya Namaha, around the base of the installation, honoring the Sun as the principal of light, life and love. In Vedic Philosophy, the Sun represents the soul—the causal body or reincarnating entity, as well as the mind of clarity and illumination.

As Charles Eisenstein, in Sacred Economics, points out, he is "not surprised that ancient people worshiped the sun, the only thing we know that gives without expectation or even possibility of return. The sun is generosity manifest." He goes on, a bit later, to say that "solar energy is the light of earthly love reflected back at us".

So, it goes without saying that we think our solar array is beautiful. It’s a piece of architectural artwork; it’s practical spirituality; it’s earthly love reflected back at us!

We have learned that this, however, is not a popularly held viewpoint. Comments have ranged from "what is that monstrosity in your back yard?" to "I wouldn’t put something like that on my property!". Oh, there was also the woman who asked if we were "expecting an alien landing". Good grief.

These comments, mind you, all came from people who wouldn’t think twice if there were a couple of junk cars sitting out there, or maybe even a garish TV satellite receiver. If we had stashed an old washer or dryer on the back porch or had a couple of broken-down snowmobiles in the shed, they’d walk right by them, too, and never bat an eyelash. But, some solar panels? No way!

Take, for example, the town of Warwick, in southern Orange County. They were the first community in the US to install solar panels on their Town Hall, install an electric car charging station near their farmers' market and attract an LEED-certified supermarket. While this all sounds good to me, the town is now contending with the complaints of people who do not like the idea of solar panels on downtown village homes. John Hicks, the town attorney and former Orange County Republican chairman whose wife sent in a letter of complaint regarding the solar installations, said he and his wife support energy efficiency but oppose the installation of solar panels on historic downtown homes "because basically solar panels are pretty ugly."

And, Warwick isn’t the only place where solar panels are under assault. Residents and politicians in Ridgewood, Wyckoff, and several other posh suburban towns just outside New York City are attacking local utility company PSE&G for putting up solar panels. Specifically, in an attempt to double the Garden State’s solar capacity, the company has been installing 3-foot-by-5-foot solar modules on utility poles. And the reactions are less than positive: “It’s just horrible,” said Ridgewood’s Deputy Mayor Tom Riche, according to an article in The Record, of Bergen County, N.J.
Aren’t we really addressing an age-old philosophical question about what constitutes beauty? Or fashion?

For example, no self-respecting chic woman of the 21st century would be caught dead in a fitted bodice with gathers and padded shoulders. But, if this were 1942, she’d be sizzling.

And, I’ll bet nobody thought that all of those electric lines that got hung in the early 1900’s were ugly. Probably not: they were too excited about exchanging their oil lamps for light bulbs. If we’re really talking about aesthetics, a nicely trimmed oil lamp is way prettier than a light switch. But, electric lights were a step forward. They lessened the chance of a house fire, didn’t emit fumes and put off way more light. So, nobody complained.

Well, it’s kind of the same with solar panels. They are a step forward. Solar power is renewable and non-polluting. And, after the initial investment, all of the electricity produced is free. As a culture, we’re just not used to looking at them yet. But, give us a decade or so, and they’ll be like those electric wires that are strung all over the place—we will hardly even notice them. And, when we do, we’ll recognize that they are beautiful. They’re beautiful because they are renewable and non-polluting. And, because they are a step forward. Their beauty is grounded in their contribution to sustainable futures. They are an icon to something that we are giving to—instead of taking away from—subsequent generations. They are not a fashion statement: they’re an evolutionary statement. They are monuments to the awakening of our species.

OM Suryaya Namaha.