No sense in solar mediocrity


A client of ours recently asked, “What’s the story with this noisy solar installation in Edgartown?”  (MVTimes, Sept. 25, “Solar array generates electricity, contractor generates complaints”). We will tell you what we told her, and more.

A noisy PV (photovoltaic) installation should be an oxymoron, but there it is, in the Smith Hollow neighborhood. The noise is caused by large centralized inverters (the least resilient way to design a system) that are poorly located (near homes).

That is just one of many unfortunate design decisions the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative (CVEC) made in the design of installations for Edgartown, West Tisbury, and Tisbury. The systems were hurriedly installed by off-Island, low-bid companies — one of them went out of business before completing the job — and it shows.

The installation on the Katama plains, for example, covers prime agricultural land. What were the selectmen thinking? It has droopy wires that can blow in the wind and rub against the racking, the panels are misaligned, and the array is so low to the ground that mowing the grass will be difficult. We were amazed to see weeds growing up between the panels recently. It looks like an abandoned ruin less than a year after completion.

We urge you to look at the comparable ground-mount installations by on-Island Vineyard Power (VP) at the Aquinnah and Chilmark landfills, and compare. You’ll see something fundamentally different in terms of land use, design, aesthetics, quality, and productivity. These systems have a higher initial cost, but will provide greater value per dollar spent and will be easier to maintain long-term.

Our criticism is self-serving — there are no two ways about it — because South Mountain Co., which we are a part of, is the designer and contractor for the VP systems. But we feel compelled to bring attention to the issue to dispel the misperceptions these systems foster and to urge those considering solar to do the research. We did not bid on the CVEC systems because we felt there were too many flaws in the siting, the specifications, and the process.

In our opinion, the CVEC systems are good for the towns and the Island. Expanding the use of renewable energy is important. But there’s no reason to do things poorly when they can just as easily be done well. Especially something like this, which could be there for 40 years, looking good and producing well, or not. Hopefully our town officials have learned good lessons.

We are not the only Island solar company. There are other competent local companies with the capacity to do these large installations. It’s a shame to import mediocrity. Not all solar is the same. Do the homework. Learn the difference. Stay local. Give solar the good name it deserves.

John Abrams and Rob Meyers are among the 19 co-owners of South Mountain Co., a West Tisbury architecture, engineering, building, and renewable-energy company. Mr. Abrams is CEO. Mr. Meyers is energy services general manager.