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Solar Farms in Greenbelt?

posted in: Green | 8

by Jeff Lemieux


Several years ago, I wrote about trying to transform some of Greenbelt’s empty parking lots into usable space.

Here’s an idea: what about community *solar farms?

I have four locations in mind so far:  1) the southmost (virtually unused) field at Northway fields, or at least the huge outfield section, 2) the far back parking lot at Beltway Plaza, 3) the large unused parking lot at the north end of Capital Office Park, and 4) the hidden parking lot below the Greenbelt Marriott.

OK, the Northway fields site isn’t a parking lot, but it is empty most of the time. I think one of those huge ballfields – or even part of one – could be put to good use collecting solar power for Greenbelt.

I don’t know much about how a Greenbelt solar coop would be organized. For example, I own a couple panels via a solar farm organized by these guys: Arcadia Power. It seems to me that Greenbelt could do something similar. We could build it and share the power. Or we could arrange site leases and share the power generated with the companies that do the installations, like SolarCity or Sunrun.

This being Greenbelt, I’m sure of two things:

  1. Somebody already knows way more about this than I do, and
  2. There will be lots of opinions and debate.

So let the discussion begin! I think even having a debate about solar farming in Greenbelt, with analysis about whether you’d need county permits, relief from parking minimums etc., would be awesome.

I raised the suggestion with a representative of Beltway Plaza, who indicated preliminary interest with an important condition: that the solar installations could be movable or relocatable elsewhere, or that any community obligations could be terminated at a reasonable cost in the event of redevelopment of their parking lot. That’s a helpful start, I think. I don’t know whether the owners at Capital Office Park would be similarly interested, but we could ask.

What do you think?


*Jeff recommends these sources of information about solar farms: 

8 Responses

  1. Lin
    | Reply

    Great idea! How about some wind generators as well? I asked GHI about installing solar rooftops (a recent invention), but they said it’s still too new a concept and they were concerned that not enough of the rooftops face the right way.

  2. Jeff
    | Reply

    @Lin, when SolarCity evaluated our house, they said we had too much shade, even though we have a south-facing roof front. I suspect that’s typical in many parts of Greenbelt with our mature trees. That one reason why I think community solar using some of our open parking lots and lesser-used ballfields might be more efficient.

    Here are some basic links explaining community solar better than I could:

  3. Bob Cochran
    | Reply

    I think we should establish at least one solar farm if possible. Northway Fields is a very good location because it is close to a large cluster of homes. Locating the “farm” close to prospective consumers should reduce the cost of delivering electricity to them. Perhaps a pilot program could be done at reasonable cost. The challenge of how to store and distribute solar electric power to a group of homes near that location will require engineering consultation. An engineering firm can be hired to do this. There will need to be a method for selecting the pilot users of the generated electricity. Perhaps it is possible to suspend panels above parking lots, rather than creating permanent structures to support the panels. Having a “drawbridge” spanning a parking lot that has panels installed on them would let the panels be raised (just like the movable sections of a drawbridge) and lowered, as needed. Another idea: design a large sheet of solar panels which is also an aircraft. The panels could be flown to any convenient location by remote control just as hobbyist remote control aircraft are. A one acre “sheet” pf panels, complete with battery banks, can fly to location B, stay there all day storing electricity, and then fly somewhere else just before sundown, dock there, and “pump out” its battery banks for that location to use. For example such a sheet of solar panels could dock near the Greenbelt Community Center and power that building for a time. In times of weather-related power outages, Perhaps the idea is not to have a permanently installed solar farm: instead, use a portable one set up as an aircraft, which can literally go anywhere. We really need to utilize solar energy wherever we can: electrical demand will increase over time, and this is a good way to satisfy some of the hunger for power.

  4. Anne Marie Grunberg
    | Reply

    I am not against solar energy per se, however we need to take into account production and disposal of energy products when we calculate whether an energy source is truly “green”. We need to take into account the considerable damage that wind turbines do to migratory and predatory birds as well as bats. All too often these costs are not taken into account when discussing alternative energy. Sometimes people jump on the bandwagon of “green” energy without considering the total environmental impact. If it is decided to go ahead regardless then we should consider how to mitigate the environmental and ecological impacts such solar farms or wind farms would have and include such issues into the calculated price.

  5. Anne Guglik
    | Reply

    Redevelopment of one of the parking lots would obviate the possible complaints about the microclimate created by a solar farm having a negative effect on the local ecosystem. I suspect that the wind power suggested by one of the other commenters would be uneconomical with the wind characteristics of Greenbelt.

  6. Carol Shaw
    | Reply

    I just move to the development, Greenbook Estates, from Boxwood Village. Here, and in the other Greenbelt East developments with large single family homes. there are a lot of houses with solar panels. Is there a way existing homes could be a part of the solar farm? Also, there is another unused park, Mandan Park, at the end of Ora Glen on Mandan Rd. I think it may be closed due to vandalism.

  7. Lore Rosenthal
    | Reply


    a) to do a “Solar Farm”, you really need a half a Megawatt (500 Kilowatts) which is equal to about 2 acres. Where would we find that size land in Greenbelt?

    b) If you want to do a parking lot structure, it will be about 30-50% more expensive to build than using a roof top. The cost of the electricity to the individual “subscriber” would now be MORE than what they are paying for dirty electricity. (Most Solar Farms pride themselves on being *less* than what you are currently paying.

    Also, financiers will not build unless they can keep it there for 15-20 years!

    For those of you who mentioned siting the panels near the homes (customers) with the Community Solar Model, there are no “wires”. It is all down through “virtual net metering”, which just involves billing adjustments to the people who “subscribe” to the projects.

    I like the idea in theory, but in reality there probably is not any land or parking lot or rooftop in Greenbelt that would be appropriate for the Arcadia Power (“Community Solar”) model.

    Lore Rosenthal

  8. Lore Rosenthal
    | Reply

    BTW, here is another way to be a part of a Community Solar project (“Solar Farm”) in Prince George’s County, but not specifically in Greenbelt.


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