by Emely Rodriguez *
The Lehigh Valley has already made changes to create a cleaner, more sustainable future for our community. For example, Allentown installed solar panels on their courthouses in 2010, public transportation buses became hybrid electric buses in 2014, yet there is so much more our community can do. Becoming a more sustainable community starts with small changes that we make to create a cleaner brighter future.
My proposal is to install solar panels on public government buildings around the Lehigh Valley. We can expand on what has already been done, by installing solar panels on the post office, the library, and public schools. Solar power would provide a cleaner renewable electrical source for our community. The cost of solar panels have lowered significantly in the last four decades by 99%. Solar power has become cheaper than coal, natural gas and many other fossil fuels.
The U.S department of energy has always encouraged using solar energy; even recently announcing that they are going to provide 20 million dollars in funding to advance perovskite solar photovoltaic technologies. This technology has shown to have great potential for high performance and low production costs when used to create solar cells. Currently the most effective technology for creating solar cells is monocrystalline, they are very efficient, durable, and have higher costs than polycrystalline, and Thin- film. Statistics from the Department of Energy, the overall annual return on investing (ROI) in solar panels is more than 20%. In a decade, this investment would benefit the community tremendously.
Homeowners in the community that have solar panels understand what solar can do and how it works first hand. It’s a really great way to encourage cleaner energy; the more solar energy we bring into our community, the less we are putting harmful emissions into our air. Investing in solar power, which is renewable creates surplus income that will be returned annually could be used to repair roads, historical buildings and plant trees. We know the initial system can be costly, and far more than the solar panels themselves. The solar investment tax (ITC) only benefits homeowners and businesses, for the City this means paying full price. Solar energy seems like dependence on the government, investing in solar panels now may lead to waste in the future.
After the panels are used till the end of their cycle, they could be disposed incorrectly and left to rust in landfills. Solar panels have toxic and explosive compounds that could lead to unintended health risk to workers and local residents. There aren’t any high levels of toxicity that would be a health concern. The main reason that my proposal is specifically for public buildings is because it benefits everyone in the community. Putting the solar panels on the roof of these establishments would be ideal however, I can understand why some residents and those working in these facilities could oppose the idea. For homeowners, monocrystalline is a great option since most house roofing can handle the weight of the panels. Commercial roofing is unable to withstand the weight of the panels, installing large quantities could lead to damage to the facilities.
For this reason, some actions our community officials could take is to partner with a solar energy company. Making sure that each building has solar panels fit to its needs; Solutions could be that we install polycrystalline or Thin- film solar panels. Although they may be less effective, they are lightweight and more affordable. Another suggestion could be for the city to have a designated area where the solar panels could be placed where they wouldn’t be an issue for residents and wildlife. It would encourage individual homeowners to consider bringing solar power into their homes and taking advantage of those tax incentives. And in that initiative our city government could help support those with lower income homeowners with lower cost loans. Since the U.S department of energy also encourages solar energy in communities I hope that government officials and community leaders take this proposal into consideration. To create a cleaner, healthier environment for our community, solar is the way to go.
Emely is a senior at Liberty High School. Although she was not able to read her essay at the Speak Out, Emely hopes that ‘my ideas and writing speak volumes, and can be a starting point for change.’ After graduating high school she plans to study business and marketing.
* Because Emely couldn’t make it to the event, she was there ‘in heart and spirit’. Eli Zemsky read her essay at the Speak Out event.
(The Speak Out presented a slightly shorter version of this essay.)