Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Developers at Work: Pointless Solar Panels Proliferate on Paper

In this model of the revised Maine State Pier proposal from Ocean Properties (see yesterday's post below), the parking garage in the foreground seems to be abandoned, overgrown with jungle vegetation and capped with a tropically blue lagoon. I think that the plastic foliage is supposed to indicate that the garage will be a "green" building. It might generate hundreds of additional vehicle trips which will spew literal tons of air pollution into downtown Portland's air, but turn the place into a gigantic duck blind and maybe people won't notice.

If it were that easy, Exxon could have installed an eco-toilet on the sinking Valdez and called it good. Besides, there aren't many plants that could survive the notoriously toxic air inside every parking garage - plastic varieties excepted. This new green-building focus in the Ocean Properties proposal definitely suffers from the simplistic mindset of a quick fix, though. Just look at the solar panels.

This placard at last night's meeting showed some of the new "green" features being considered. Among the promises are a "carbon neutral project," "eco-pavers" on the surface parking lot, and the "largest solar collector installation in [the] region." The latter will be distributed among the rooftops of the project's buildings.

All well and good, but in all of the models and renderings, many of those solar rooftops slope down towards the north - i.e., away from our scant northern-latitude sunlight (take a look at the photos of the models to see what I mean). Since we're not in the southern hemisphere, that design isn't going to generate much power - a fact that leads me to the conclusion that this idea isn't about generating clean electricity as much as it's about generating warm and fuzzy feelings.

The rest of the green promises - the carbon-neutrality, the eco-pavers, etcetera - fall similarly flat as soon as you consider the massive amounts of socialized parking in this plan. The lead architecture firm for Ocean Properties, which specicializes in McMansions and gaudy hotels, looks like it needs a crash course in green design. Ocean Properties' sustainable cred hangs in the balance.

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