Updated plans to put solar panels in the Maryland Science Center's parking lot were presented to the Federal Hill neighborhood group Tuesday evening by the museum and Constellation Energy.
About 30 nearby residents showed up to hear about the project, which is designed to supply some electricity to the Inner Harbor center while educating visitors about a form of renewable energy. The plans had been modified because of prior objections from neighbors.
"Our mission is to explain science and technology and to basically excite the next generation of innovators," said Van R. Reiner, president and chief executive of the science center. "We felt we had an obligation to explain how solar panels work and have a demonstration project."
The center already has a "green" roof, with solar panels, and a rain garden on the grounds. The new panels would be installed on structures under which cars could park, in the lower level of the 100-space surface lot off Key Highway that leads to a loading dock. The space is several feet below the upper level, Reiner said.
The panels would be constructed by Constellation Energy Group, and the science center would purchase the electricity generated, he said. The center proposed the project more than a year ago but is now applying for a building permit and needs community support, he said.
Some Federal Hill residents oppose any additional harbor-front construction that would eliminate harbor views and detract from the historical character of Federal Hill Park.
"You have to give the Science Center credit for a project like this," said resident Nolan North. However, he said, "this will be a permanent industrial eyesore for at least 20 years." The 73-year-old William Street resident said that the aesthetics would be changed but that "the benefit is minuscule" because such a small amount of power would be generated by the panels.
Another resident raised concerns over how the view from the park would be hindered by glare from the glass panels, but Benjamin Levy, a senior project engineer with Constellation, said that it would be minimal, citing studies used to evaluate effects of solar panel glare on pilots.
Paul W. Robinson, president of the neighborhood association, said science center officials have described their plans as "part of an experiment that involves solar power and involves the greater purpose … that it's in this country's best interest to find viable alternatives for fossil fuel to create our energy, an attempt on the part of the science center to further their mission in terms of education and research."
But many residents, including those who could see the panels from their homes, "are reasonably and justifiably concerned that this is one of the last unobstructed pieces of property with respect to the view from the Federal Hill neighborhood."
Last year, a Federal Hill woman seeking to become the first Baltimore resident with a wind turbine on her roof was denied permission after her proposal brought opposition from neighbors concerned about safety and aesthetics.
Robinson added that the science center proposal comes after decades of construction of condos and townhouses along the waterfront.
"We've got a wall of construction that obstructs what were once some pretty spectacular views important to the history of the Federal Hill neighborhood and the city of Baltimore," Robinson said. "If all of this construction … gets in the way of people appreciating the history of Federal Hill Park, that might be a shame."
The project's initial proposal called for panels to be constructed on both levels of the lot, but it was modified after Federal Hill residents objected, Reiner said.
Reiner said the science center plans to coordinate programming around the solar project.
"This is electricity generated without generating any carbon dioxide," he said. "I think we have an obligation to … generate discussion around science and technology. When you can see it, that's experiential learning. We're a 'please touch' facility. It fits in with our overall mission."
Baltimore Sun reporter Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.