Posts about Solar Power
If you own a home in a historic district in DC, you can't install solar panels, unless nobody can see them from a street. That's the recommendation from historic preservation staff on a case the board will debate today.
A homeowner on Newark Street in Cleveland Park wants to add solar panels to the roof. The house faces south, meaning that the only side invisible from the street would be the north side which gets far less sun.
The Cleveland Park Historical Society supports the panels. From their website:
CPHS's Architectural Review Committee supports the installation of solar panels on this property, not on the street-facing slope of the roof (which the applicants do not propose), but on more of the west face of the roof than was originally proposed, in order to regularize the array of panels. The ARC is interested in encouraging the use of alternative energy sources in the historic district. It received very strong statements of support from neighbors adjoining the property.
However, the staff report says that according to current preservation guidelines, solar panels are okay but only if nobody can see them from a street. If they can, no solar panels.
In fairness to historic preservation staff, they seem to be trying to follow their written guidelines. Preservation decisions are already so subjective, and the more preservationists can make them predictable, the better.
However, these guidelines are still very vague and leave lots of room for staff or the board to come out differently on similar cases. For example, staff recommended against letting the building replacing the Christian Science church at 16th and I have a penthouse level with occupiable space, and most board members agreed. But, ANC members pointed out, in 2007 staff supported a penthouse roof terrace for the Hay-Adams hotel, right on Lafayette Park.
Listen to any meeting of the Historic Preservation Review Board, the appointed body that makes the ultimate decisions, and few members on either side of the issue talk about how a case fits with similar cases elsewhere or how a project lines up against guidelines; instead, you hear a lot of very personal opinions about whether members "like it" or not.
A bigger problem is the one Matt Yglesias pointed out: The preservation process narrowly excludes every single factor except for historic "compatibility." In most public decisions, officials weigh a variety of factors against one another. Here, the board must ignore the value of environmental sustainability, the economic impact, and even the owner's hardship or religious freedom.
At the previous HPRB meeting, where the board landmarked the 1960s urban-renewal Tiber Island project in Southwest, preservation chief David Maloney noted that there was "not yet public support" for a wider historic district in the neighborhood. As long as the preservation process holds that "compatibility" is the sole factor and overly restrictive guidelines define it so narrowly, it's unlikely there will ever be public support for another historic district.
Anyone who'd rather see no more preservation at all would probably appreciate this conclusion. So, perhaps, do those who only care about blocking development in a select few already-designed neighborhoods and who care little about the rest. Everyone else, however, ought to hope our preservation process can reach a better balance in keeping with the broader priorities and needs of the city.
Update: The Montgomery County Historic Preservation Office followed up with a tweet about how in their county, they're okay with visible solar panels when done tastefully and when it's the only option. A store in Glen Echo Heights got permission to add the panels. DC would do well to follow suit.
Update 2: The board voted 4-3 today to reject the solar panels. In an initial vote, members Andrew Aurbach, Maria Casarella, Graham Davidson and chair Catherine Buell voted to allow the solar panels, while Rauzia Ally, Nancy Metzger, Gretchen Pfaehler and Joseph Taylor voted no. Buell then abstained in a subsequent vote to allow the board to pass a motion.
Last week, the Department of Energy announced the Solar Decathlon would not be held in DC in 2013. The move is a big loss for city of Washington, the National Mall, the Decathlon itself, and even US climate policy.
The Solar Decathlon has been held in DC every time since its inception in 2002. In its first 4 iterations, it occupied a prominent place on the National Mall. Last year's event faced a rockier road in its planning stages, eventually landing in West Potomac Park.
While DOE touted a move as an opportunity to "expand the excitement excitement generated by the competition and encourage participation from new communities," it's hard to think the 2011 planning troubles didn't make the decision just a bit easier.
Last January, the Department of Energy announced the Decathlon would not take place on the Mall as it had the previous four times. Word was the Department of the Interior, home to the inimitable National Park Service, had pressured DOE because of the Decathlon's negative impact on the Mall's otherwise pristine greenery. NPS applauded the move.
Rumors later surfaced that the Decathlon would land at National Harbor, the bastion of sustainability located outside the Beltway, with dismal transit access and no incidental foot traffic.
After protests from competitors, fans and even Congress members, DOE finally settled on West Potomac Park, at least in central DC, though not terribly convenient or visible. As a result, the organizers had to provide a costly shuttle service from the closest metro stations. The permit conditions and the lack of large paths also required they lay down more tile flooring than ever before to protect the park's grass.
Whatever the cause of the westward move, it will be real detriment to Washington, DC and to the vitality of our monumental core. The National Mall, which has been called a failed public space, suffers from a lack of nearby residences and non-museum attractions.
The two weeks of the Solar Decathlon is the only time you can find dwelling units other than the White House in the region's most central, yet least populated Census tract. Since several team members have to live in their houses, the event literally doubles the population.
Most events on the mall last several hours or a day, attracting people for a very specific purpose only to cast them out again as soon as the event is over. People come for the event, not for the place.
The Solar Decathlon turned the National Mall into a destination, a true place with an interesting streetscape. While the hours to go in the houses were limited, people could admire the craftsmanship from outside any time of day. This encouraged lingering, what Jane Jacobs called one of the most important functions of a good public space.
The Decathlon's placemaking ability was apparent this year, despite its less-than-optimal location. West Potomac Park, which is typically only visited by kickballers and 10k runners, felt lively for two weeks.
It was also a great opportunity for residents and visitors of the nation's capital and fastest growing city to see the potential beauty in compact, energy-efficient living. I can attest to this.
During this year's Decathlon, I was right in the middle of the first-time home buying experience. We were feeling the temptation of the "go farther, get more" mindset that fueled the inexorable creep of suburbia. Seeing small, but beautiful and impeccably designed entries emphasized to us what you can do very little space. We came away fascinated, and firmer in our resolve to forgo space in order to find a excellent urban location.
How did the Decathlon end up in Orange County? The City of Irvine and the Orange County Great Park fought for it.
Meanwhile, it's unclear if NPS even submitted a bid. When asked, DOE said it couldn't release a list of applicants or discuss specific bids. I contacted NPS last week to see if they or an associated group had submitted a bid for the Mall. They haven't yet responded.
Of course, given the agency's joy at this year's move from the Mall, it's doubtful they made much effort to keep it here.
Where other regions have entities that fight to bring vibrant events like the Solar Decathlon in, the Washington region does not. Residents here suffer because the Park Service, as a national entity, doesn't actually represent their interests, though they are its most immediate stakeholders.
It's only fair that the Department of Energy spread the love of the Solar Decathlon around the country. But the US loses the ability to truly showcase its commitment to sustainability. Building two dozen passive houses on America's front lawn, blocks from the halls of power, sends a powerful message.
The Solar Decathlon certainly attracts visitors from afar on its own. But it also benefits immensely from being located in a place where there are hundreds of thousands of other travelers who would stop by given the easy opportunity.
Washington, DC is the nation's capital and a huge, international tourist destination. Irvine, California, is a distant suburb of Los Angeles with 215,000 people. Not much of a showcase.
Even in West Potomac Park, with the Washington Monument peeking over the trees on one end, and the Jefferson Memorial rotunda on the other, it was still clear where you were.
Not any more. Moving the Decathlon around has some merit, but the new location is a true shame. Few think of sustainability when they think about Orange County.
An unconventional entry in this year's Solar Decathlon brings low-footprint home design to city rooftops. It has pleased the crowds, but not the judges because it has two significant drawbacks: comfort and up-front cost.
This year's Solar Decathlon is being held in West Potomac Park, near the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial. The event will wrap up this Sunday, and you can see this home and others if you head down to the event.
Team New York, comprised of students from City College of New York, brings to this year's Decathlon (sponsored by the US Department of Energy) an innovative attempt to embrace an oft-neglected urban surface. Their "Solar Roofpod" is a 746-square-foot home specifically intended to be built on top of the existing flat roofs of the four- to ten-story buildings that cover much of the Big Apple.
"Solar Roofpod" may not be winning in the Solar Decathlon's ratings, but the inventive design has sparked plenty of talk about the feasibility of its premise. At less than 800 square feet, the home resembles in size many Manhattan apartments, but claims to reduce utility expenses by $2,500 annually by generating 11.6 megawatt hours of electricity per year through its solar panel system.
Situated on a rooftop, the home has direct access to light, wind, and water, which the team claims will help reduce overall energy costs in conjunction with the energy-conserving design. The module doesn't neglect to take its "host building" into account either: a steel beam Dunnage Garden built around the home helps protect the building below from absorbing the pod's radiation, and provides space for a rooftop garden.
Although not all of the ten judging metrics have been scored yet, TNY did not fare well on Affordability, coming in second to last with a rating of 61.4 out of 100 possible points. Affordability is an extremely significant metric in this contest, as the Decathlon touts "cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive" home design ideas. Though, perhaps unsurprisingly, the judges' dismal score hasn't hurt the public's impression of the Solar Roofpod. Team New York is currently in second place in the People's Choice Awards, in which the public votes on their favorite house.
From an urban planning perspective, the Solar Roofpod offers a space-conscious solution for building new single-family units in an already fully-developed neighborhood and promotes greater use of solar photovoltaic panels and rooftop gardens. There may not be much room in New York's densely packed streets to build new detached townhouses, but there's certainly open space available on top of its existing buildings to give an individual, or perhaps a couple, room to stretch out.
Solar Roofpod's popularity seems to indicate willingness on the part of Americans to suspend their disbelief and imagine what a city like New York might look like if, on top of large office and apartment buildings, one might be able to look up and see a diminutive home. But because of its shortcomings in practicality and livability
DC Council considers primary date, diagonal parking, free school transit, taxi medallions and much more
DC's primary will likely move to April, people will get solar rebates, and bills introduced in the DC Council yesterday could establish a taxi medallion system, make transit free for schoolchildren, add diagonal parking, and put requirements on large retailers like Walmart.
The Council approved the first reading of a bill to move DC's presidential and local primary to April 3 next year. The presidential date allows DC to potentially band together with Maryland and Delaware and get bonus delegates from the political parties, which are trying to incentivize regional primaries after March.
For the local primary, March is more problematic. Since DC's primary essentially determines the winner in races including the mayoral race, a primary at the start of March could mean that one person will hold the seat for 10 more months while another is already virtually certain to take over.
We saw Mayor Fenty essentially stop making significant decisions once he lost the primary, but Gray was not yet mayor to start making any decisions, and so little happened in the government in the interim. Having this last for almost a year is dangerous. Councilmembers Phil Mendelson (at-large) and Tommy Wells (ward 6) raised this same objection in the session, but won over no colleagues.
Also during the legislative session, the Council gave those solar rebates to people who had qualified but suddenly found there was no money; unfortunately, this comes out of other sustainable energy funding.
They also delayed a vote on a nominee to the Board of Zoning Adjustment, Gray campaign attorney 1998-2000 DCRA head Lloyd Jordan, in part because of opposition letters from some neighborhood groups.
Sekou Biddle (interim at-large) introduced a bill to make transit free for children traveling to and from school. He argued that this will reduce truancy. It might, but it would also cost money which DC doesn't have, and there was no indication where the money might come from to pay for this.
Harry Thomas, Jr. (ward 5) introduced three car-related bills. A pair of bills asks for regulations to allow diagonal parking in business corridors, when 60% of businesses in an area ask for it, and religious institutions on Sundays, with the approval of the area ANC.
Diagonal parking can be a fine way to fit more parking into an area when there is room on the street that's not already being used. DDOT is proposing this between Tenleytown's Whole Foods and Wilson High, for instance. But in most places in DC where church parking is scarce, there isn't room on the street to add diagonal parking.
Area business corridors, ANCs, and churches should be able to petition DDOT now to consider diagonal parking if they want to. They should also be able to ask DDOT to consider removing parking, or changing a street from one-way to two-way or vice versa, or adding a bike lane.
So yes, diagonal parking should be a part of the overall toolbox, and if DDOT lacks the authority to implement it now, they should get that authority. But diagonal parking will only make sense in a very small number of cases. Thomas talked about holding town halls around his ward, and it's hard not to wonder if he's just introducing this to be able to say he's doing something at those town halls, even if that something is almost always impractical for the specific situation.
On a side note, Thomas seems to be trying to keep the bill from singling out one faith by referring to "religious institutions," but by limiting the rule to Sundays, it does exclude religious institutions which celebrate on Saturdays, for instance.
Another bill that's likely to generate more serious debate is a measure from Thomas, Michael Brown (at-large) and Marion Barry (ward 8) to establish a system of taxicab medallions, with separate categories for DC resident drivers and non-resident drivers, as well as special categories for taxis operating in underserved areas and low-emission (hybrid) taxis. This topic is worth its own, separate post.
Phil Mendelson introduced a pair of bills largely targeted at Wal-Mart. Both apply only to retailers of at least 75,000 square feet, requiring them to negotiate Community Benefits Agreements with their neighborhoods and pay living wages and benefits.
Observers think these have little chance of passing. The bills will go to committees chaired by Thomas and Michael Brown, who both court the union vote but also who have shown little interest in interfering with Walmart's expansion into DC.
Other bills included ones to require food trucks to pay sales tax, as we discussed yesterday, and expand low-income property tax relief, from Jack Evans (ward 2); to publish Council procurement information online, from Chairman Kwame Brown and Mary Cheh (ward 3); to allow L3Cs, a type of hybrid nonprofit/for-profit business entity; and a number of measures from Cheh to improve transparency.
DOE and DOI announced today that the 2011 Solar Decathlon will be hosted in West Potomac Park. The event will still be held in late September, as previously scheduled.
While the park is somewhat less desirable than the originally location on the National Mall, the final location is significantly more accessible than other options which had been proposed, particularly National Harbor in Prince George's County.
- Bikeshare is a gateway to private biking, not competition
- Judge denies injunction against closing schools
- Long-term closures: A solution to single-tracking?
- Metro policy for refunds after delays falls short, riders say
- PG planners propose bold new smart growth future
- M Street cycle track keeps improving, draws church anger
- Prince George's County struggles to get trails right