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.