Solar Stimulus

When I was in Montana with my family in July, we happened upon Vice President Joe Biden’s security detail.  He was apparently in the area to, among other things, give a talk in Yellowstone National Park about the economic and environmental benefits of federal stimulus projects.  In today’s WSJ, Roger Meiners looks closely at one such stimulus project in Montana — a $179,000 grant to a fish hatchery for the installation of solar panels — and finds it wanting.

The fish hatchery uses about 34,000 kilowatt hours (kwh) of electricity annually. At 10 cents per kwh, that means a bill of $3,400. The solar panels, we are assured, will generate 75% of the hatchery’s electricity, at zero cents per kwh. Assuming so, the annual electric bill will fall by $2,550. Applying that sum to the cost, the recovery period for the solar panels (ignoring interest rates) is 70 years.

Solar panel experts say that panels have about a 25-year life, but the latest models, which no doubt are used in Ennis, may have a 40-year life. Taking that estimate, the panels leave us in the financial dark by 30 years. The rate of return looks like Las Vegas housing the past couple years.