· February 2017

February 2017

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The future of energy has arrived in Pennsylvania and we ought to push it forward.

This is an op-ed article by the founding directors of LAGI. It was originally published in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette on Sunday February 5, 2017. In this version, we have provided some helpful links for those who would like to dig deeper! – Elizabeth and Robert

The day before President Donald Trump was inaugurated, a team installed solar panels on our roof that will offset 100 percent of our home’s electricity. We live in one of the densest neighborhoods in Pittsburgh in a 20-foot wide row house on the North Side.

The timing of the installation worked out to be inauguration eve by chance, but it made us reflect on the fact that this is one of the easiest actions that we can take as Americans to help both country and ourselves — whether we are concerned about the climate and that the Trump administration might lock in a few additional degrees of global temperature rise, or whether we are interested in being grid-independent and saving money.

The winds of populism are rolling in on both sides of the political spectrum. This was made clear with the popularity of the Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders presidential campaigns. Populism appeals to ordinary people, and we can’t think of an issue that is more popular than renewable energy.

A post-election survey conducted by the Conservative Energy Network found that more than 70 percent of voters, regardless of party, favor placing more emphasis on solar and wind power than on coal. Even base GOP voters favor wind and solar over coal.

In many markets, solar already has surpassed all other forms of energy generation and become the cheapest per kilowatt-hour. Unless government puts its finger on the scale, we can see the end of coal as an electrical power source.

For those who understand the science of climate change, this is good news. And for those who doubt the science, it is still good news because it means cheaper power, more resilient infrastructure, less air pollution, fewer lopped-off mountaintops, lower risk to our riversheds and natural habitats, and increased independence from a not-always reliable electricity grid.

So, call up a solar company today and put those panels on your roof! You might not need to spend a dime to do it. You likely can arrange a purchase agreement by which you lease your roof and buy back the energy — while saving money on your electric bill.

Call your state representatives and municipal officials, too. Tell them to support market-based approaches, such as the Property Assessed Clean Energy Program (PACE), to kick-start the clean-energy economy and create jobs. Tell them to support efforts to require that Renewable Energy Credits used in Pennsylvania are generated in Pennsylvania through the production of clean energy. And promote community projects in your own neighborhood to produce more renewable energy.

There are hundreds of thousands of rooftops and vacant lots in Pennsylvania that represent ripe opportunities for generating power. With the cost of installed solar panels at less than $4 per watt and falling, there is no reason to delay.

In the hands of artists and designers, the use of vacant lots for community solar can also become opportunities to create public art with new types of solar panels, which now come in almost any color. Let’s catch up to states such as New York, where the Reforming the Energy Vision plan is reducing market barriers to clean-energy infrastructure and where a statewide Green Bank is increasing the availability of capital for energy projects.

Remind your representatives that, in Pennsylvania, jobs in the clean-energy sector outnumber those in coal, gas and petroleum combined by nearly 2 to 1, and that jobs in renewable energy will be tripling in the next decade worldwide.

Western Pennsylvania has a tradition of being at the leading edge of energy innovation, from Titusville to Westinghouse and the Marcellus Shale. Let’s recognize that the sun is setting on those old technologies. Let’s move to the front edge of the 21st century.

Photo by Katia McGuirk

Photo by Katia McGuirk

Thanks to the Village of Arts and Humanities for hosting a LAGI workshop today in North Philadelphia. The event was held in partnership with Temple University, and brought together a wonderful group of all ages to brainstorm ideas for bringing renewable energy infrastructure into this vibrant neighborhood.

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The day started off with an introduction to the history of the Village of Arts and Humanities by the Executive Director, Aviva Kapust. We were inspired by the rich tradition of community art with an infrastructural approach to beautifying public spaces. From the Village’s website:

More than 40 years ago, Arthur Hall erected the Black Humanitarian Center near the corner of 10th and Lehigh in North Central Philadelphia (now The Village’s main programming building). For Arthur Hall, creating space for people in the neighborhood to read, dance, sing and make music, was a crucial part of each resident learning and celebrating the community’s culture and heritage. Twenty years later, artist Lily Yeh continued growing spaces in the neighborhood, in the same spirit of communal care and compassion. For Lily, the beautification of physical space catalyzed positive mental and emotional shifts in the way that residents viewed their own lives and the health of their neighborhood. Using social art practice, both Arthur and Lily—the Village’s first artists in residence—in collaboration with Big Man, Jo Jo, H German Wilson, and so many other influential figures, encouraged people to believe in, and help build a more beautiful and just future for themselves and their families.

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With help from Jon Hopkins, Environmental Director and head of the PhillyEarth program, we explored the beautiful park spaces and building facades of the Village as a group, looking at opportunities for solar power generation. The group studied three potential sites and everyone eventually narrowed in on one south-facing wall of a building directly across from Ile Ife park that has the greatest solar potential.

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After learning about the amazing versatility of solar panels (did you know that they can come in almost any color and in custom shapes?) and inspired by a pop-up exhibition of LAGI artworks from past competitions, the workshop participants got busy with idea generating.

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The concepts that developed are rooted in the tradition of the neighborhood and carry forward key phrases such as “power resilience” and “angels watching over the community.” Any of the ideas put forward today could evolve into a public artwork for the Village that provides renewable energy to the community with integrated solar technology. More than that, the concepts presented can continue the rich tradition of the Village of Arts and Humanities supporting self expression and catalyzing positive change.

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The workshop followed a talk the day before at Temple University’s Architecture Building.

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A special thanks to Kathleen Grady and Sally Harrison at Temple University for planning and supporting this February’s LAGI events.

The program under which the workshop took place is part of Temple University’s “Seeing Stories: Visualizing Sustainable Citizenship” series, co-curated by Temple Contemporary, Temple University’s Office of Sustainability, and Temple University Libraries, along with faculty and graduate students from the Tyler School of Art, the College of Liberal Arts, and the Center for the Cinematic and Performing Arts.

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