Green v. Green in School Building Plan


When it comes to green building, which is greener? Trees or solar panels?

That’s the gist of a fierce debate now underway in a school district outside Philadelphia, where 26 acres of forest next to the school are about to be razed to erect a 21,000-panel solar "farm."

At issue is the Coatesville Solar Initiative, a two-year, $35 million plan to create what proponents say will be the first and only school in the United States (Coatestville Area High School, in Coatesville, PA) to run entirely on solar power.

'Make a Name for Ourselves'

The project, on track to become the largest solar park in Pennsylvania, has been endorsed by the county Economic Development Council and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Smart Energy Initiative.

Those groups say the project will create jobs and "make a name for ourselves in the world of clean energy." The project gained local land-use approval in February 2013 and school board approval in August.

The Coatesville Area School District also favors the project. “This is going to help the district keep taxes down and keep our educational programs going,” Superintendent Richard Como recently told the Daily Local, a local newspaper.

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Backers say the solar project will make Coatesville Area High School the first totally solar-powered school in the United States.

Developer Bob Keares, who owns a solar installation company called Keares Electrical Contracting Inc., bought the 48-acre tract next to the school in 2011. He says the project will mean less expensive, cleaner energy for the school district over the long term.

He also says that, over its lifetime, the project will have the environmental impact of planting more than 5.5 million trees, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

'Sacrificing a Scarce Resource'

Critics, however, are appalled at the loss of green space in Pennsylvania's fastest-growing county.

They say the solar farm will impact storm water management and harm the beauty of the area. Site preparation to control runoff will push erection of the solar panels into 2016, Keares told the Daily Local.

Although the immediate plan is to clear just 26 of the 48 acres, the rest of the tract will likely to be cleared and filled with panels in the years to come, project officials have said.


Officials say the solar park will generate cleaner, less expensive energy for the school district.

The Brandwine Conservancy, a prominent land preservation group, has objected that officials did not consider installing the panels on roofs, parking lots or other already-developed properties before signing off on clearing the forest.

"You're sacrificing a scarce resource to supply another," the Conservancy's John Theilacker told the Inquirer. "We just question the soundness of that decision."



Tagged categories: Developers; Energy efficiency; Green building; Maintenance + Renovation; North America; Schools; Solar energy

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