Green Thoughts on Solar Panels and Cell Towers

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I was watching the news, and NBC turned their peacock green for a week.

Why only a week?

It is like James Michael Fitzpatrick saying I am only going to be Irish on St Patrick’s Day.

Drink it up Newport Beach, as typically these efforts of education and outreach are tied to events that achieve a green outcome and, like cold beer, that is good.  For some participants, it will provide the spark that ignites a passion of green thinking and action to “Vote Green Every Day.”

Time to weigh in on a couple local topics, like the solar panels on the hillside overlooking Bayside Drive.  The folks in Sacramento are smarter than we locals.  They must play snooker, as consideration of aesthetics of a solar project cannot be the basis for a project denial by a city based on the 2004 Solar Rights Act, limiting local regulation.  I do not hold the Nanny State homeowner accountable, a property owner has rights, as the project is in complete compliance with city code.

I do hold the solar installer and the PR firm accountable, however.  Why?  Remember the first generation of cell towers?  Vertical structures, and a monument to getting function right, but the form was ugly.  Now Wireless companies offer all kinds of stealth and screening options, and most residents are hard pressed to locate next-generation cell sites.  The solar contractor installed the wall of solar without any “Genius of the AND” thinking that solar can generate energy AND be aesthetically pleasing, or create shade.

I have been trying to withhold judgment, and have been pestering the PR firm to show us the landscape plans.  With those plans, we can all determine if a living “wall” can screen and mitigate the perceived blight.  I hope landscaping is the solution.  However, hope is definitely not a strategy.

A solution you say?

Good luck changing state law, so perhaps the city can advocate a voluntary and incentive-based approach.  Define what Newport Beach wants, and what the community would prefer to see, and consider glare, so light pollution is not a factor.  Then educate the solar contractors, challenge them to achieve the community vision.  Consider incentives or waiving fees if desired outcomes are achieved.  My thinking appears to be consistent what the good folks of City Council directed. Jinx.

Did I mention cell towers?  As a result of Newport Beach not approving cell towers, on a federally regulated utility, the city will be sued.  Radio frequencies emissions are the much cited medical concern, yet with RF exposure comparisons to common devices, science does not validate the concern.  Exposures in megawatts/cm2: 0.1 Cell Site, police and mobile radio, 250: FM transmitter, 100; cordless phone, 15; cell tower, 0.1.  Visit or

This is a double-edged sword.  On one side, the residents, despite good science, still have health concerns, that radiation from a tower will cause third eyes.  On the other hand, residents in other communities that come to the City Council to complain often have their cell phone, or these days, a “device,” go off as they are making comments.  This demonstrates the demand for these wireless sites.  We are no longer in need of coverage as the iPhone is most likely driving the need to increase capacity.  Long lines at the Council’s podium are real, but the yield is emotion-driven logic, not fact.

I suggest that the community leaders start to recognize the importance and necessity of this utility to residents and business and seek acceptable visual impact standards.  Bandwidth is the new black gold.  Develop standards that are acceptable to both residents and the wireless industry.  Public safety is enhanced, jobs are created and decisions on where to live and work are all affected by this utility, or is it an amenity?

Using the “Genius of the AND” in green thinking – where something is green if it serves two or more functions – what if the wireless facility headed to a park near you is far enough away from children AND it has flagpoles?  Those flagpoles contain the cell tower.  At the base, to screen the equipment, the city plans a memorial to honor the adopted 1/1 Marines?  Part of the backside of the facility could be secure storage for youth sports, creating many wins to go around.

Lastly, when it comes to green thinking, I encourage you to find subject matter experts in your green field of interest.  My best analogy is that if you want to go to a rodeo, go with a cowboy.

Stay green my friends.

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