SCHENECTADY — More than 100 years after General Electric scientist Charles Proteus Steinmetz improved the way we use electricity, Vale Cemetery is doing its own part to promote innovative power sources.
"Looking at all the scientists that are buried in Vale Cemetery, particularly Steinmetz, I think it's appropriate for us to have a solar farm," said Dr. Bernard McEvoy, vice president of the Vale Cemetery board of directors. "I think he would have thought it was a great idea."
McEvoy announced Wednesday that Vale Cemetery will lease an unused portion of its 100-acre property to Monolith Solar, of Albany. Construction of the solar farm, which will deliver 400,000 watts of solar energy to offset electricity use by municipal buildings in Albany, is expected to start in January.
"We have a few trees to trim, but the panels are going to be placed in an area that is unused and has never been surveyed for burial sites," McEvoy said. "We sent out letters to residents on Elmer Avenue and Stanford Street, the places that border that part of the cemetery, and we got nothing but positive responses. Everybody liked the idea of more green energy, and it means money for the cemetery."
Vale Cemetery, established in October 1857, is one of six cemeteries in New York sanctioned as a "natural burial area" by the Green Burial Council. Gas-powered mowing equipment has been replaced by sheep and goats, and the area is free of herbicides, pesticides, formaldehyde and non-biodegradable containers.
According to Monolith Solar sales manager Jennifer Amerling, the company will make sure Vale's natural setting won't be disturbed.
"Our goal is to always keep the aesthetics pleasing, no matter where we install our solar arrays," Amerling said. "We're working on a layout of the area now that will keep Vale Cemetery very welcoming to the public."
Along with getting approval from the Vale board and the city of Schenectady, the project had to be cleared by the state Department of State, Division of Cemeteries.
"Generally, the New York State Cemetery Board and the Division seek to ensure that the activity is appropriate for the cemetery, for the location and for the community, that it provides a financial benefit, that it does not detract from the cemetery and that it does not interfere with cemetery operations, burials and visits or the rights of lot owners," said Mercedes Padillo, public information director for the state. "
Padilla added that Vale is one of two cemeteries in the state to file applications for installation of solar panels.
Amerling added that any land area Monolith Solar looks into for solar arrays must meet a number of qualifications.
"There's a lot of property out there that people want to sell or rent to us," she said, "but a lot of it just doesn't fit our requirements. Vale Cemetery is an awesome place; it fit perfectly, and we're happy to help them out financially."
MiSci curator Chris Hunter said both Steinmetz and Thomas Edison would have loved the idea of promoting solar energy.
"General Electric started researching solar power in the 1920s, so I think it was something Steinmetz would have been especially interested in," said Hunter. "He was always interested in affordable and clean energy for everyone."
As for Edison, Hunter said, he told his friends, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, all about the possibilities of solar energy back in 1931.
"I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy," Edison is reported to have told the two industrialists. "What a source of power. I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that."