Solar for the South Side - A “can do” plan for urban solar array in Chicago?

In today's Chicago Tribune, Josh Boak reported on a plan to install 32,800 panels in a former industrial site on Chicago's South Side. It would amount to the largest solar power project in an American urban center.

The site for the proposed solar array is promising: Chicago's West Pullman neighborhood. A century ago, this was part of the innovative and prosperous company town built by George Pullman to produce his famous railroad cars. At the time, these were the cutting edge of transportation technology, and the community was considered both an industrial wonder as well as an amazing social experiment.  As technology, transportation, and industry changed, the community was left more "on the edge" than at the leading front of prosperity and productivity. The new solar energy plan has the promise to again harness cutting-edge technology as a ticket to rebirth for this once vibrant area.

While we have not seen all the details of the plan, there is a lot to like about the concept:

  • "Brownfields" to "Bright Fields"-  investment in new, clean energy is per se good, and particularly good when it transforms a community at the heart of old, shuttered, industrial sites, with the legacy of pollution.
  • Locating solar generation in an urban environment adjacent to customers and a rich built environment will avoid a host of transmission issues that burden large-scale solar farms outside of metropolitan areas.
  • Green Jobs where they are needed - Chicago's South Side needs good jobs and will be the likely recipient of the many new green jobs that the project would create, reinvigorating the local economy.
  • As more of clean energy projects like this are established, the economies of scale will help to drive down the cost of solar technology.

Proposals like this one show the potential to clean up both our cities and our energy supply while bolstering the economy and environment. Apparently, not everyone shares this optimism. The Tribune's "comment forums" are rife with posts that rip the plan, complain that renewable energy is a waste and mock solar in "the Windy City." 

These whingeing, negative, pewling comments bring to mind EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson's remark about the "no we can't crowd" who say NO to innovation. These nay-sayers have little faith in American ingenuity and capacity to create new technologies and build a clean energy economy.

Personally, I cannot help but feel a sense of deep, bracing, fundamentally American optimism about the promise of generating clean energy in the heart of Chicago communities like West Pullman.