Solar Silliness

Written by Jeff Johnson on May 31, 2009. Posted in Golden Hydrant

New solar panels will save taxpayers $15,000 per year in energy costs – starting in 2070goldenhydrant_web

We in Hennepin County government have recently been congratulating ourselves about the new solar panels just installed on the county’s Public Works building in Medina.  The panels are touted as a great success story for county taxpayers because they are saving $15,000 per year in energy costs.

I believe this sort of project can be a great use of taxpayer dollars.  If there are “green” improvements that we can make to county buildings that save us money down the road (within a reasonable period of time), I’m on board.

When I was first told about the panels, I asked what I assumed was a simple and relevant question: How much did the panels cost; how long before they have paid for themselves and the taxpayers start realizing this $15,000 annual savings?

Before I provide you the answer to my question, let me say that there is no magic pay-off period for such projects.  Some argue that an energy conservation project is successful if it pays for itself in 7 to 8 years.  Others argue it can be 10 to 12.  I’ve even heard a few people argue that it should be slightly longer than that, based on the positive effect (regardless of how small) such projects allegedly have on the environment.  I don’t have a firm opinion yet as to where I fall on the pay-off period, but I’m certainly comfortable with something in the 10-year range for a project such as this.

The Public Works Solar Panels?  Well, after some explanation to me about how this project is not “all about the bottom line” I learned that they cost about $900,000.

Yes, these solar panels will begin to save the taxpayers of Hennepin County $15,000 per year in 2070.  My 5th grade son, Thor, will be 71.  I will be dead.  And I’m willing to wager that the Hennepin County Public Works building in Medina will be long gone.

This week’s Golden Hydrant goes to the $900,000 solar panels on the county Public Works building.  In 2009, when we supposedly don’t have enough money to even provide the basic services of county government,  spending a nice chunk of change on a project that might (at the very best) provide a small savings to my great-great grandchildren is just plain crazy.

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