Wednesday, May 27, 2009

New and Improved?

The conflict between conservationists and renewable energy advocates has been duly noted, but today the New York Times adds a new stakeholder to the greening of America debate-- preservationists.

An issue increasingly coming to the fore: is it appropriate-- or even permissable-- to make modifications to historic properties, in the name of energy efficiency and a smaller carbon footprint?

The Times throws up this jump ball: would you, or should you, put solar panels on the roof at Mount Vernon?

Both sides are staking out their positions on the extreme fringes of the argument, which obviously is not conducive to finding a middle ground, or even realistic. There is merit to the argument that we shouldn't cut holes in the roof of George Washington's home to toss up PV panels, but I seriously doubt that anyone would ever consider actually doing so.

The real question will be whether homeowners who have filed for historical designations simply to reap the tax benefits will be prevented from making energy efficient modifications to their homes.

The times cites the example of a homeowner in a historic distric who was rebuffed in his effort to install a 45 foot wind turbine. Nothing will get a NIMBY's hackles up like a 45 foot propeller next door, so you can guess that the opposition has about as much to do with historical integrity as the Malibu millionaires' opposition to LNG had to do with security and the environment.

In the extreme, this is a stupid conforontational argument, but in practical cases involving old homes that lack any real national historic value, this is just one more procedural issue to work through.

Historic Architecture vs. Clean Energy [New York Times, Green, Inc.]