Letter: Solar canopies would make Kent a city of the future

Climate action is finally coming to Kent! A global health, safety and sustainability service company, Keramida, has been hired by Kent City Council to develop a plan for decreasing CO2 emissions, curb climate change and support the goals of the Paris Accords. Eventually a final plan will be presented to council for consideration and, hopefully, approved and starting to be implemented in several months. Realistically, climate action will take several years to fully implement — but it is on its way.

Climate change is already impacting different parts of the U.S. and around the world. The news has been rigorously reporting on many of these events. The costs of damages created are growing much more than we can imagine. We need to adapt to this new reality in order to survive. One major approach recommended by many scientific and other reputable sources to reduce global warming is to eliminate coal, significantly reduce oil and gas and substitute these non-renewable sources with renewable energy sources including solar panels and wind generators to produce electricity. Yes, the sun and wind can save all of us!

Solarizing Kent makes sense because the price for solar panels has significantly decreased and our federal government is incentivizing us to invest in renewable energy sources. How do we do it? Certainly we can solarize the roofs of many of our homes, but city government can do more by installing solar panels on the flat roofs of government buildings, including the new city hall being constructed, and encouraging KSU to do the same with its large buildings. Solar panels can also be installed on the flat roofs of many businesses and stores throughout the city.     

One recommendation I have been reading about is having cities and their local businesses build commercial solar panel canopies. A solar canopy is an outdoor structure designed and built to hold an overhanging solar array. In addition to the solar panels producing electricity, the space underneath the canopy can have functional use as a parking lot. As an illustration, picture the huge parking lot that the Acme supermarket has along with the variety of small businesses that form its core. This is located in the east side of Kent in Franklin Township. Another similar example is the Plaza Cinemas complex with its large parking lot area also servicing another variety of businesses. These customer parking experiences would be improved since shade would be provided from the sun and protection from rain. It would also serve as a model for Kent State to consider solar canopies over its large student and faculty parking lots. Additionally, some residents might find value in installing solar canopies over their homes’ parking areas if they don’t have a garage or to cover campers, boats, patios, and other outdoor spaces. These canopies, in addition to helping to reduce CO2 emissions might foster community relations by “showing-off” their dedication to curbing climate change.     

But how would these solar canopy projects be funded? Perhaps the Kent and Franklin Township communities could divert some of its funds to build the canopies with tax-payer dollars and the businesses could collectively pay to have the solar panels installed. The businesses would receive the electrical power produced by the solar panels as a financial incentive to significantly cut their energy costs. The city might have to implement an energy tax with citizens hopefully valuing the opportunity to contribute reducing greenhouse gases and moving the community to sustainable, clean energy.

Additionally, and most importantly, Kent would serve as a model to other county and state communities. It all starts with a climate action plan and a committed Kent City Council with supportive community citizens.   

Bill Wilen, Kent

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