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Environmental math: more solar panels = fewer eucalyptus trees

by Alan Markow, published

It is well known that some green programs fail.  Solyndra, the Fremont-based solar panel manufacturer forced into bankruptcy last month is one high profile example.  Meanwhile, energy efficient transportation projects such as California’s proposed high-speed rail struggle to get off the ground.

But, a solar installation in Martinez just may take the cake for pure irony on an environmental level.  The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors has ordered Main Street Power to halt all work on construction of a major green energy project after they discovered that the company had gutted a stand of 100 eucalyptus trees near the entrance of a popular regional park near Pinole in order to make way for an installation of solar panels.  The public outcry has been deafening.

Exactly whose idea it was to trade 100 old growth eucalyptus trees for a stand of newly constructed solar panels is hard to determine because Main Street Power failed to show up at the hearing called by the Board of Supervisors to explain themselves.  According to the Contra Costa Times:

     “The board wants Main Street Power to redesign the solar panel field and accommodate the restoration of a tree buffer between the jail and the regional park, but the firm has said the county must pay for it.”

The county is skating on thin ice here because it apparently approved the entire scheme, tree removal and all, back in 2010 when it let the contract.  Of course, all the civil servants involved in those nefarious negotiations have since left the county’s employ (and may well be lobbying for the tree removal industry for all we know).  It’s unclear whether this entire brouhaha will end up being settled in or out of court – if at all.

Apparently, the rest of the county staff was satisfied to use laissez-faire management techniques on the project and hence were caught by surprise when large chunks of greenery began to disappear from the Contra Costa landscape.  The county’s sincere hope was to move rapidly into a green environment, save some $500,000 over the 20-year lifespan of the contract, and claim bragging rights as a green county.

The only thing green the county may now have to brag about is the Dr. Seuss-style egg on its face, thrown there by angry citizens.  In a classic expression of too little too late, Supervisor Karen Mitchoff of Pleasant Hill exclaimed, "I'm appalled.  I cannot fathom why someone thought they could cut down all those trees."

“It’s outlandish,” said Supervisor Mary Nejedly Piepho of Discovery Bay, in a moment of bureaucratic decisiveness. "I have had it with this company!"

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