City will cut trees to install solar carports


Library solar outwardNo, this is not The Onion. Trees will be cut in pursuit of solar power.

Last night the Finance Committee approved Part B of docket item #133-15, authorizing the mayor to negotiate leases for solar carports on the parking lots of the Newton Free Library and Newton South High School. (Part A , involving solar panels at Rumford Ave and on the roofs of a several schools and other city buildings – but not City Hall, and carports at Elliot St DPW, had already been approved.)

The company that would lease the city-owned sites and construct, operate, and maintain the solar panels for a 20-year lease period is Ameresco Solar, Inc. The city would buy the energy produced through a Power Purchase Agreement, and Ameresco would receive federal income tax credits for solar that are apparently what makes the project financially feasible.

I had expressed concern to the Board of Aldermen last year that solar panels in parking lots with trees would cause problems for pruning trees that appeared to be very close to the panels, and that a solar company would not want tree branches shading their panels.

But it turns out they don’t want trees at all. Ameresco representatives told me last night after the meeting that they would be cutting all the trees on the two Library parking lot islands that would have solar carports. The carport design they are using is a continuous V-shaped cross section that doesn’t even have a gap in the middle for tree trunks. (The southernmost island will not get carports because there is ‘too much’ shade from the trees along the boundary of the Newton Cemetery.)Library trees center berm summer 2015

Not only did the Library trustees approve the solar panels, Building Commissioner Josh Morse told me they actually would like to get rid of the grass berms to fit in more parking spaces. (So much for promoting biking and public transit.) He called keeping the grass berms and getting rid of trees a “compromise.” (And the grass berms will be under the carports — how will that work out?)

I find the idea of cutting down trees for solar distressing and counterproductive. The Library parking lot is one of the few in the city, maybe the only one, that comes close to meeting the zoning requirement of one tree for every ten parking spaces. New trees were planted only about three years ago to replace trees that were dead or dying. These include large-maturing species like maples and disease resistant American elms, that would eventually provide a beautiful green canopy over the parking lot. The NSHS lot does not have as many trees as it should, but at least two of the main parking lot trees look like they will be casualties of the carports, if I’m interpreting the aerial view rendering correctly.

We would be losing the other benefits of the trees including aesthetic, air Library flooding warning signquality, bird and insect habitat, and storm water retention, the last of which is particularly relevant in the prone to flooding Library parking lot.

On the Finance Committee, only Lenny Gentile raised any concerns, and only about the Library carports. He feels that the Library and City Hall are the hub of the city, and it’s the wrong thing to do for only about $17,000. (I’m not sure if this represents the city’s electric savings, or what, from the Library carports.)

The solar proposal has already been approved by Public Facilities, so the next step would be the full City Council.

How do others feel?

West Newton resident, Lowell Sun photojournalist, Newton Tree Conservancy president, Urban Tree Commission member, & member of Newton Villages Alliance steering committee.

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peteryParking lot trees & solar carports - Round 2 - NewtonForumJack PriorBill RoesnerKathy Pillsbury Recent comment authors
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Lynne LeBlanc

I have neighbors who have cut down trees to “go green”. I think “missing the forest for the trees” is more applicable. Newton has an policy, on record, of promising to plant trees in parking lots, not cut them down, for goodness sake!

Right before Robert Garrity left the city as its Director of Sustainability, the Village Future Planning in Waban had him as a guest to join in the discussion. One of the things that stood out in the conversation was “you don’t cut down trees for solar.” We have yet to invent anything as efficient, resilient, and effective as trees so the idea of cutting them down to put in solar panels is tragic.

Jess Barton

@Julia, do you know if the city has looked at other parking lots that do not have trees (or at least as many trees) which could be equally well suited for solar panels?

Colleen Minaker

I believe these panels are not appropriate for the library parking lot. Their next idea will be along the Commonwealth Av carriages path.

Colleen Minaker

I believe this attempt to redesign the library parking lot is a very bad idea.

James Cote

This will face additional conversation and scrutiny at the City Council meeting as this plan, though well thought out, seems way over the top!!

Bob Jampol

Oh, what a tough call. I have many panels on my own roof, which fuel my electric car and more. I haven’t paid an electric bill in years! Still, placing panels here seems all wrong. Every time I sit in a chair in my dentist’s office over by the new Wegman’s, I stare at the empty rooftops in that mall and at the one across the street- with no trees in sight. Solar power makes perfect sense there. It seems foolish to cut down those trees in the lot at the library. We can generate solar power in other places without the sacrifice.

Kathy Pillsbury
Kathy Pillsbury

I think it is great that the city is pursuing more solar including solar carports. I’ve had solar on my house for 2 years and it is doing even better than projected. It will be saving me a lot of money and saving a lot of carbon emissions. But, I love research so I had to look up a comparison between CO2 saved by a tree and CO2 saved by solar panels.
Here is what I found from another city looking at this same issue. One tree stores about 0.5 metric tons of CO2 over its lifetime. Producing a 5kWh solar array (about the size of mine), takes about 10 metric tons of CO2. Meanwhile during its lifetime, that solar array would offset 103 metric tons of CO2! ( I don’t know the details of the sizes of the carport solar arrays and the number of trees but it would be easy to figure out the carbon savings with the solar.
My daughter goes to Newton South and those parking lots would be great places for carports. The trees are not in good shape, there are woods right near the school and there are many places near the school where more trees could be planted.
I love trees. I’m an avid gardener. But, I also love my kids so I try to do as much as I can to slow down carbon emissions and climate change.

@Kathy, I too like research. I’m concerned if one considers only one aspect of the many benefits of trees such as carbon savings, we overlook their many other endowments such as cooling down the atmosphere, providing shade, transforming CO2 into oxygen, absorbing huge amounts of water, and more. I’m all in for solar and alternative energy to get off fossil fuels ASAP. I’m all for replanting and planting more trees to regain our canopy in Newton. I believe those objectives are synergistic and fully achievable if we are careful and plan well.

James Cote

Possibly we could combine this revolutionary Library Carport idea with a revenue producing hamburger stand? Yes this is ridiculous but let’s take another look at the library carports and think of the legacy of our decisions.

Carport for Library.png
Bill Roesner
Bill Roesner

Like so much of what goes on civically in Newton the drip drip of ideas, like a few pathetic solar panels in the cities main library parking lot, really doesn’t answer the question of how do we address the major problem of really providing power from the sun.
It seems to me we should be looking for a macro solution, which might be addressed by thinking about where some really large areas where a serious solar farm might be installed.
The state took a large swath of property from Newton when it built the turnpike through the city. We should look finally for some retribution from the state in the form of the right to utilize the north side of the length of the turnpike, which, facing south, would be a great site for miles long surfaces of solar energy. This would be a serious source that would make a real difference in gaining power for the city.
But are we able to think big ? I doubt it ???


[…] lot’s been happening, including blizzards of emails, since I wrote about this issue back on March 15. It turns out it’s very hard to save trees from well-meaning solar advocates. To recap, in I […]


Why carports? If the city wants solar energy (good idea) then panels should be set at an angle equal to local latitude (about 42 deg.) not near horizontal as they are. With panels near horizontal they intercept only about 74% of the sunlight they would receive if the panels were perpendicular to the angle of the sun which (at noon) varies by +/- 23.5 degrees over the course of the year. Making carports out of solar panels is wasting a quarter of their potential energy production