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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  1. Solar canopies are a great idea. Solar panels on roofs , not so much, especially large commercial roofs. The addition of more large electrical equipment on the roof increases the chance of fire, but the solar panels restrict fire department access. When a building is on fire the fire department often needs to open the roof to ventilate smoke and heat. Solar panels can block that effort. Finally, solar panels create an electrical hazard to firefighters – solar panels can not be shut off. They are always generating electricity. The circuits receiving the power can be shut off, but as long as there’s light – including the fire department’s floodlights – the panels are making electricity. The place for solar panels is on the ground or on parking canopies.

  2. How about going back to the idea of a walkable Kent? With due respect to those who approved the soon-to-come roundabout at Willow/Main, it for example will make walking even more difficult. Law or not, vehicles do not like slowing down, much less stopping, to allow people to use crosswalks (just sit and watch students and others try to use crosswalks on E. Main near campus); when those dedicated traffic lights and their dedicated pedestrian lights are gone, likely some system similar to that used with the campus (too small) roundabouts will be used, which regardless of warning/crossing lights will still require pedestrians to stand for eons until a break comes to run across the road.

    Didn’t mean to simply grouse about poorly thought traffic planning, but the point is: if Kent is truly serious about being a ‘city of the future’, limiting motorized traffic (and that includes “E” anything – electric motors are motors, and lithium-battery pollution is sure to soon be a problem) and promoting traditional bicycling and foot traffic is the only way to go (skateboard and in-line skating work too!). Think out of the box in terms of public transportation – transfer hubs for cycling/walking to bus; motorized delivery drop-off sites with non-motorized delivery to final destination; tax breaks for businesses that promote and provide access to showers/lockers for employees; etc.

    Jumping on the new next thing to “save the world” looks nice in print, but in reality, in the long-term, it often is just a bunch of talk. Fix the sidewalks, limit vehicle traffic, certainly push solar (the city ought consider making it mandatory for all new construction, if feasible), and more; then perhaps we’ll actually have a future, eh?

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