Here is a truth about America- unless you are a Michael Bloomberg or some other billionaire, state and federal politics are pretty much out of your hands. But an individual can make a difference on the local level, if you are willing to deal with smear campaigns, getting fired from your job, or professionals lying about you. Really- you can speak the truth, raise issues of illegal and unethical practice, and change the course of events. Of course in Jersey, you could be taken out in the process.

But that telling does not belong in my utopian vision story.

Even a penny is considered “change.”

When I moved to town and started a building project, a local told me “bring your husband” and I made excuses for his real work schedule. She kept reiterating her point. I said, “Are you telling me they are not treating me well because I am a woman?” “Yes,” she said.

This was an awakening for a woman who had not hit the glass ceiling or felt any limitation based on gender to date. Who would have thought that it was the transition to rural, a wee 1.5 hours from Manhattan, that would be the location of my glass ceiling.

Who would have “thunk” that municipal employees could still hang signs in their offices that read “Sexual Harassment: A Perk of the Job.”

Who would have thought that there were towns where a citizen calling for gender representation on all male panels would be called a segregationist.

Who could imagine a place where the Mayor says to a young woman “If you would just stop using such big words I think it would be better.”

Well- no such luck with the “getting my husband to speak for me” or my “tolerance for sexually degrading posters in my town hall” or my agreeing to my own “dumbing down.” Instead, I am going to write a book.

Care to help me invent a working title?

Wednesday night, December th, I went to a town meeting. On the agenda was an ordinance that determined the erection and location of solar energy systems as an accessory use. Of particular note in this ordinance was, “Section 2 letter N, No. 1; states “The primary purpose of a solar energy system will be to provide power for the principal and/or accessory use of the property whereon said system is to be located and shall not be for the generation of power for commercial purposes, although this provision shall not be interpreted to prohibit the sale of excess power generated from time to time from a solar energy system designed to meet the energy needs of the principal use.” Then there is the asterisk designed to confound with small print:

*“For the purpose of this ordinance, the sale of excess power shall be limited so that in no event an energy system is generating more energy for sale than what is otherwise necessary to power the principal use of this property.”

Anyone care to figure out what that means in terms of everyday life or in terms of “policing” in a town with no police, or staff who does not understand solar power generation even a little bit?

This ordinance means that my little home solar system, with two small ground mounted panels, would be illegal in our town. (Of course I am grandfathered but I am not “unusual” in terms of solar development.) The only option I would have if I were starting now to install the system I have would be to go in front of zoning and planning boards, and I would have to pay thousands of dollars for a Variance and employing engineering experts to assess my site, and months and months of time in order to install two solar panels because, monthly, I send more power to the grid than I consume. (But of course this practice is fine with NJ State’s Green Energy Initiative and the offices that rebate to homeowners for solar installation, and the BPU’s who buy power, and the Public Utilities Board’s who manage power.)

How can my little solar system not ok with a group of elected officials in my town of 2000 people– a group of men composed of not one who runs a solar system, or one who admits to understanding the “solar climate” that has been created in our state with the 15 year lock in of the value of solar power.

Suddenly a town goes from having absolutely no solar requirements at all (in the state with the best incentives in the nation for over 8 years), to making my home illegal due to my harvesting of the sun as a small and viable energy producing “cottage industry” on my land. And the irony? What I am doing currently is a practice being encouraged by every facet of our economy and culture. And the really ironic part? The really ironic part is that every single elected official runs on a platform of common sense and “anti big business/big government” thinking.

Ok- so are you with me? Woman in a man’s world, talking to a bunch of guys getting elected on platforms of common sense and anti-big government just made a solar incentive, being encouraged at all aspects of our economy, prohibitive, more expensive, and a real headache.

So much for utopian visions.

How does one advocate for utopian government planning for solar development? That, me readers, will be post #2! Find out how I worked to change the ordinance and make a difference.

A penny is “change” after all!