Opinion: Use Town’s ARPA Funds To Construct Solar Canopies Over High School Parking Lot


UMass is a leader in on-campus solar, with five parking canopy systems and five rooftop systems that produce sufficient renewable electricity to power 1,430 homes" Photo: umass.edu

by Amrita Rutter and Jane Scalan-Emigh

Amherst can’t seem to agree on solar panels. Though they are often considered to be the end-all and be-all of sustainable energy solutions; they rank staunchly above forested land preservation for some, and rank just as staunchly below for some.

As a town, we have been dawdling with solar panels. Debates on whether we should have a moratorium on solar construction on forested land until further research on its effects on local ecosystems could be conducted took months. Some claimed that solar construction contaminated their properties and expressed concern for wildlife. Others, in turn, called the moratorium supporters NIMBY’s and urged that the council forge ahead. There is now opportunity for action that all Amherst residents should be able to agree on: a parking lot solar canopy. Town Manager Paul Bocklemen is currently debating whether or not to use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to create a solar canopy over the Amherst Regional High School (ARHS) parking lot. This array would greatly reduce the carbon footprint of our school as well as providing shade for the cars in the parking lot. 

 In a survey performed by the town this year in April, respondents expressed that using roofs and parking lots for solar installations were among the things they were most excited about when it came to establishing solar energy in Amherst. Parking lot solar arrays make up a small but growing proportion of the solar panels across the country. Parking lots are sorely underutilized space in the United States. While five acres is enough to support a 3-giggawat array, it is estimated that only 10-15% of the U.S.’ parkings lots are covered. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the country’s total solar capacity would increase five- to ten-fold if 50% of all parking lots had solar arrays installed over them.

Amrita’s first project as a young organizer was, at age fourteen, making a resident capital request for a feasibility study on this very canopy. We have been working on this project for four years now, and to see our town fulfill its potential in this way at long last would be a joy. 

This is Amherst’s chance to act. There are no trees to be felled in the construction of the array, no wildlife to be harmed (birds, in fact, may make their homes on the tops of panels!). There is no conflict amongst Amherst’s environmentalists here. This is a chance to remind —or perhaps initially convince— the current Amherst Regional High School generation and prove to ourselves as residents that our town does care about climate change and the futures of its children. The allocation of ARPA funds towards this project would solidify our status as a truly progressive town and make Amherst a role model for surrounding towns. Most importantly, it would get us closer to our goal of cutting our emissions in half by 2025.

Sunrise Amherst demands that Paul Bockleman allocate ARPA funds for the installation of a solar array over the ARHS parking lot. The town has stated countless times their commitment to meeting Amherst’s carbon emission reduction goals. This is your chance to follow through. 

Amrita Rutter and Jane Scanlan-Emigh are members of Sunrise Amherst and students at Amherst Regional High School.

Spread the love

13 thoughts on “Opinion: Use Town’s ARPA Funds To Construct Solar Canopies Over High School Parking Lot

  1. I love, love, love this idea. It makes a great deal of sense to put solar panels on our built/developed environment whenever possible, in order to preserve wooded areas where trees remove pollution from the atmosphere, and provide habitats for birds and wildlife. Thank you for writing this piece!

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments in this opinion piece, and hope we can go even further in this direction (as I explained at great length this past spring to NPR climate reporter Julia Simon, about which I’ve also commented here) to help make this happen on privately-owned parking lots around the country.

    But (at the risk of — pardon the pun — missing the forest for the trees, or perhaps “Rob-splain” 😉 ) can someone please correct the caption?

    A kilowatt is a standard unit of electrical power (energy/time), which is roughly the average peak solar power delivered to each square meter of the Earth’s surface. A kilowatt-hour (=3,600,000 joules), on the other hand, is a standard unit of electrical energy (this summer Eversource is charging about 25 cents for that).

    Should the caption instead read ” … produce 10 million kilowatt-hours of renewable electricity annually … “? (An energy-efficient household might use as little as 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, so the estimate of “1,430 homes” also seems a bit low, but perhaps that figure includes folks who like their AC and don’t wear hats and mittens with long underwear, double socks and 3± layers of sweaters while indoors in winter ….)

  3. Thanks so much for this article and hooray to Sunrise Amherst for advocating the use of ARPA funds for a solar canopy over the Amherst Regional High School parking lot! Solar canopies over parking lots are a win-win location (shade provided and no trees lost) and great way for Amherst to use ARPA funds.

  4. This is a win-win situation and a no-brainer. Of course solar panels should be installed in every available parking lot and rooftop! I hope this is already in the works. Thank you Amrita and Jane for bringing this to the Town’s attention.

  5. I wonder what the interest is for business to build solar canopies in some public/private partnership, with the public part being a favorable lease for the right to build them on public land.

    The profit motives are different from those of a person leasing their private land and a giant solar company that looks for those landowners.

    I think there would need to be a long-term commitment, so a company doesn’t profit and leave, and not being responsible after the rated life of the panels (25-30 years) or some kind of inevitable problem down the road, as has happened right here in Western Mass, with the company that paid a million dollar penalty still doing business in Amherst.

    We use Seventh Generation toilet paper, so we might extend that thinking to how we do business with the solar industry.

  6. Love this idea. The canopies at UMass are actually a win in terms of snow cover, too (although that is increasingly less of an issue, sadly).

    Rob Kusner, thanks for the correction on the caption. However, your suggested correction is … in the form of a question. Is this intended to be an authoritative correction? or just a suggestion that someone (hopefully not me) needs to do additional research for clarification because you’re not sure either?

  7. To Laura Quilter, you’re welcome! Certainly the units need to be corrected. And this question remains: given that the units are incorrect, are the stated numbers correct, and shouldn’t such a number have “error bars” or be stated as a range of values? It’s not hard to estimate the area of the UMass panels using Google Maps, and if one knows the efficiency of these panels for converting solar to electrical energy then one could easily estimate the latter. However, that’s a bit like relying EPA fuel economy ratings on a car to decide whether to refuel, and ignoring the fuel gauge only to run out of fuel! Since these panels have been in service for several years now, UMass should have abundant — and quite detailed (daily, hourly, … )— performance data for the electrical energy output of each solar panel array. Indeed that would be the “additional research” needed to substantiate the stated numbers (and help make the case for investing in such panels).

  8. Many thanks, Irene, illustrating once again a beautiful feature of The Indy: real-time crowd-sourcing of real information!

  9. I echo all the thanks from the previous comments for a wonderful op-ed and a very good idea!!

    One more minor tweak/edit: although I don’t have full access to the linked article, is it possible that the 5 acre plot is able to support a 3 MW array (instead of a 3 GW array)? New England’s maximum daily demand is about 20 GW (see https://www.iso-ne.com/isoexpress/ for example)–which includes two nuclear plants of output, plus a whole bunch more!

    Energy units are always tough! Again, excellent ideas and great article!!!

  10. A = 5 acres ~ 2 hectares = 20,000 square-meters

    B = maximum solar flux ~ 1,000 watts/square-meter (at Amherst’s latitude)

    To get maximum for a 5 acre array, multiply: AB ~ 20,000,000 watts = 20 megawatts = 20MW

    But solar panels cannot convert all the solar energy into electrical energy; perhaps Adam assumes ~15% efficiency?

    Multiplying again: ~15% of 20MW ~ 3MW gives Adam’s figure, which sounds like a reasonable maximum electrical power estimate for a 5 acre array at Amherst’s latitude.

  11. Rob: Wow, thanks for the thorough mathematical treatment of my comment!! Honestly, my personal thinking was just “hmm, 3GW for a 5 acre plot seems far too high given New England’s total energy use, the authors probably meant 3MW, which would seem to fit.” Your assumption of me using a 15% efficiency was being far too kind to my thought process!

    That said, always nice when very disparate approaches yield similar results! Thanks again for your work directly estimating the power output!!

  12. @Rob Kusner — shouldn’t such a number have “error bars” or be stated as a range of values? … err …. this is really beyond my comfort level! I wonder if you and our original authors might put your heads together and come up with a better & more accurate caption.

Leave a Reply

The Amherst Indy welcomes your comment on this article. Comments must be signed with your real, full name & contact information; and must be factual and civil. See the Indy comment policy for more information.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.