University Installs Solar and Electric Car Charging. "Environmentalists" Get Mad.

Quinn Dombrowski/CC BY-SA 2.0

Author's Note: This post has been edited to correct the name of the institution. A previous version stated that it was the University of Michigan.

With electric charging stations beginning to appear in cities across the Globe, you'd think sustainability advocates would be pleased.

Especially when those charging stations are powered by solar or other clean tech.

But not so at Western Michigan University, where Ursula Zirilli of the Kalamazoo Gazette reports that some student environmentalists were mighty upset that trees were being removed to install solar-powered car charging stations:

Despite the fact the trees would absorb 200-240 pounds of carbon a year while the PV array will remove 145,600 pounds annually, Szuszwalak said the scenario is the latest example of WMU "green-washing," or using green efforts to make the university look better while not actually making campus more sustainable.

Of course protecting trees is dear to TreeHugger, but there is often a trade-off between land use and protection of individual trees or plants, and broader questions of sustainability infrastructure. (You only have to look at the hot debates that have ensued over previous "trees vs solar" posts to know this can be a controversial topic!)

But it's important to note that there are rarely black and white answers. Indeed Kathrine Binder, a graduate student, writes in a letter about the trees versus electric car charging "scandal" that this isn't just a question of not making an omelet without breaking eggs—it's about the eggs in question being of dubious value:

The project requires that the solar panels be located in close proximity to these stations with the intent to demonstrate a clear connection between solar-power and the electric car-charging stations. Alternative locations for the panels were considered, including rooftops. However, in order to avoid snow accumulation, the panels must be oriented vertically during winter months resulting in excessive wind pressure in elevated locations. The trees that were removed to clear space for the panels were nine Honey Locusts, an exotic and dangerously invasive species in Michigan. The trees were already threatened because of snow and road salt that was piled on them every winter.

Binder also notes that WMU has "a long-standing policy that requires two trees to be planted for every one taken. Meaning that 18 trees will be planted in the spring and this project results in a net gain of nine healthy, well-located, non-invasive campus trees."

Seems like a win-win situation to me. I'd love to hear from readers who think otherwise.

Tags: Activism | Biodiversity | Conservation | Electric Cars | Michigan | Solar Power

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