Ugliness is in the eye of the abutter

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“Yeah, but how’s it going to look?” is a great question before repainting the den, but a feeble interjection when evaluating alternative energy projects, with which looks should be irrelevant.

Emphasis on “should be.”

Yet homeowners who adopt new energy technologies, and companies that emerge to develop them, are still faced with barrages of criticism and complaints from neighbors who say while, yes, the spirit of the project is laudable, the fact I can see it from my property is certainly not.

Take poor Laurence Gardner in Scarborough, who has erected 10-foot photovoltaic panels to power his home, only to have his neighbors demand the town council deem them “eyesores” and order their removal.

One neighbor said the panels – modern symbols of energy independence and efficiency – could reduce property values by half.

“It’s beyond our understanding how anyone would object to a solar-panel house in 2007,” Gardner said, according to The Associated Press. “Someone called the panels a ‘monstrosity.’ But my family and I, we think they’re beautiful. I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

While ugliness, it seems, is in the eye of the abutters.

This same situation has happened with wind power, as protection of pristine mountain peaks for aesthetics was a rallying cry from opponents, and why turbines have been preferable when considered for potato fields rather than peaks.

And it’s occurring already in Wiscasset, where ink on plans for a coal gasification plant is barely dry.

“I’m concerned about the loss of property values for those of us who live nearby,” said Dennis Dunbar, of Westport Island, during the first municipal meeting on the project, according to the AP. “The skyline of such a plant, the lights all night, that could reduce the value of my home by up to 50 percent.”

Appearance is an unwelcome interloper into important considerations of alternative energy production, as the way a wind turbine, solar panel or power plant looks is immaterial compared to Maine’s, and the nation’s, desperate need to develop efficient, inexpensive new forms of delivering energy.

Introducing aesthetics into issues where it’s irrelevant, however, shows our immaturity as a society to make sacrifices for the good of our economy, culture and environment. Early adopters, like Gardner, or ambitious developments, like in Wiscasset, should only be evaluated on their merits, or their potential.

Not how they look.

Progress isn’t always pretty, but neither are rising prices for consumer goods based on escalating energy costs, nor the prospect of continued dependence on foreign energy sources.

These alternatives should be enough to convince objectors into saying, “Who cares how it looks.”

Emphasis on “should be.”

We’re still waiting for it to happen.

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