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The slippery slope has a solar panel on it

While this isn’t the newest story, the New York Times and writer Nicholas Kulish recently told the tale of the small German city of Marburg and their efforts at greening the town through government regulation. I read it and thought to myself, “gee, this is something like Maryland would do” – definitely the story piqued my interest.

Probably the most intriguing parallel between the city of 80,000 and our state is that people tend to be in favor of the principles behind the ordinance, but think it goes too far because this is a dictate on what people can and cannot do with their private property. Witness the example of the homeowner who already has a small solar panel on his roof but would be forced to place a newer and larger one there as part of reinsulating his home. His point is that the regulation may discourage him from redoing his insulation (and it is a valid argument) but then again he could go ahead and pay the 1,000 euro fine, factoring it into the payback cost of the insulation. (However, at that point the city may amend the law as Maryland has with its new Critical Areas laws, making each day a nonconforming situation exists a separate offense.)

While the object in question isn’t solar panels the Marburg regulation reminds me of an idea, some form of which has been attempted in at least the last two General Assembly sessions, of charging homeowners who wish to improve their sites an impervious surface fee. (As I’ve blogged about several times before, the state of Maryland already subsidizes solar panel installation with grants and a sales tax waiver.) Not only does it satisfy the fringe environmentalists’ ideas about limiting development, it also satiates the liberal thirst for more dollars to redistribute because at one point the idea was floated as an annual fee on homeowners. Look for it to rear its ugly head once again in 2009.

As is generally the case with legislation which breaks new ground into usurping personal rights, there’s unintended consequences that I like to bring into the light. In the Marburg case, the regulations would prevent one homeowner from making the investment in reinsulating his house (and having a fairly short payback period on his investment) because he’d also have to pay for a solar panel which would be of dubious benefit to him because he already has similar technology in a smaller panel. Akin to this, all of the Critical Areas legislation and money invested in cleaning up Chesapeake Bay hasn’t shown itself in results which would satisfy the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other similar environmental groups because they’re not going to be happy until the Bay is restored to its pristine state circa 1600, when the only pollution in the Bay was from natural causes (read: poo from the few people and plentiful wild animals which were here then.) Those of us in Maryland are still paying plenty for the near-impossibility of trying to get the Bay back to that state in both money and personal freedom.

Fortunately for Marburg residents, it appears that the next level of government (equivalent to our state) will turn thumbs-down on the solar panel proposal, citing that it’s poorly written. In our case, I happen to think a self-imposed moratorium on new environmental regulations (and revenue generation) in Maryland is in order, this to give those regulations in force right now an opportunity to be studied to gauge their effectiveness. If Chesapeake Bay isn’t getting cleaner in five years’ time under the maze of regulations we already have in effect, then perhaps it’s time to see what can be done at that time in concert with the other states in its watershed. But we all need a breather – it took decades to place the Bay in its state, so how can we expect instant results?

Crossposted on monoblogue.






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