Subsidizing ‘Green’

by Paul Chesser, Heartland Institute Correspondent on March 31, 2009

Remember last month when the president and vice president photo-opped the signing of the $787 billion stimulus bill in Denver? Part of the trip was devoted to President Obama’s promotion of “green” energy initiatives, many of which will benefit from the mass subsidization in the new legislation. One project he toured was a solar panel project on top of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, which the Denver Post says, “The sun generates enough energy on the museum rooftop to power about 30 homes.” Well, investigative reporter Todd Shepherd of Colorado’s Independence Institute tried to verify that and other claims about the project:

…That claim cannot be verified at this time, and in fact, seems to be belied by the scant information provided by the museum and other sources. Laura Holtman, public relations manager for the museum said in an email, “Because the array generates less than 5 percent of the museum’s power, [the purchased energy] is not a particularly large bill.”

The Independence Institute asked the Denver Museum of Science and Nature to provide certain statistical information regarding the now-famous solar array. Specifically, the Institute asked for:

1 ) Two years worth of electric bills prior to the installation of the solar array,
2 ) All electric bills following the completion of the installation.

The Museum denied those requests.

As Shepherd explains, it turns out the solar panels were so expensive ($720,000) that the museum declined to undertake the project for itself. Instead, a private company was able to make it worthwhile to own the project via taxpayer-subsidized “rebates” through Xcel Energy, and via state and federal tax “incentives.”

Given the circumstances it is absurd to believe the claims made about the amount of power generated by the panels. But note the statement: “The sun generates enough energy on the museum rooftop to power about 30 homes.” Any detail beyond that hopeful generality is lost on the uncurious, lazy reporter. Note that the statement isn’t talking about the energy generated from the panels; just how much solar energy is hitting the top of the roof. And enough energy on the rooftop to power 30 homes for how long? Or how long does the sun have to hit the roof to power the homes (and for how long)? How big are the homes? Etc., etc….

And the museum has no business withholding the information that Shepherd is looking for. According to its 2007 annual report, almost a quarter (22.6%) of DMNS’s support was coerced from taxpayers: from the City and County of Denver, and from the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (which receives 1 percent of a sales and use tax in a seven-county region surrounding the city). I would say that reaches the public interest threshold where you ought to turn over your electric bills, especially when you are trying to get to the bottom of another dubious project that is heavily subsidized by taxes and surcharges.

Bonus observation from the Denver Post story: Obama cheerleading reporter Allison Sherry, again demonstrating she is devoid of any critical thinking capacity, regurgitates his assertion that “the stimulus bill could create 60,000 jobs here and 400,000 jobs nationwide.” Really? Colorado would likely get 15 percent of the stimulus-driven jobs for the whole nation?

Bonus observation II from the article: Blake Jones, who owns the company that installed the solar panels, looks forward to the stimulus funds:

Jones said he called other CEOs of solar companies to evaluate what they found in the stimulus bill. “The consensus is that this bill will immediately benefit companies like ours,” he said.

Jones said green-technology companies have dozens of projects on hold because of the freeze on venture-capital funding. He believes the stimulus package will get that funding flowing again.

More proof that these things are only attractive with a massive influx of the taxpayers’ hard-earned money.

David March 31, 2009 at 3:04 pm

For Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for code and data, see new guidelines by Attorney General Holder:

Attorney General Issues New FOIA Guidelines to Favor Disclosure and Transparency
http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/2009/March/09-ag-253….

Memorandum for Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies Re The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
http://www.usdoj.gov/ag/foia-memo-march2009.pdf

Richard Carroll March 31, 2009 at 7:09 pm

Great article. the public needs better info on how much energy will be really produced by the incorporation of Colorado's renewable goals. I have learned that a 1 megawatt wind mill is capable of generating enough power for 330 homes (capacity factor) based on the amount of time the wind is blowing. However the power can be only used when it is needed and therefore the take of electricity is described as capacity value. Utilities must determined the capacity value in order to evaluate what they are delivering to the rate payers. Google capcity value and a number pdfs will reveal that the capacity value is only 5 to 10%. Therefore one megawatt is really only 100 kilowattts or enough tp power 100 people. Of course this does not include heating or cooling. 90% of the one megawatt will be produced by natural gas electric generation which will have to run inefficiently by balanceing the wind generated power.

Ed T April 2, 2009 at 7:36 am

From my calculation the 30 house number seems extremely bogus.

Here is the calculation:

I estimate that each square panel is 1 meter by 1 meter (I think this is generous). It looks like there are about 10 panels per row, so each row is 10 square meters. With 18 rows that is 180 sq meters of panel.

The solar radiation in June in Denver is about 6KWh/m2/day (see http://www.nrel.gov/gis/images/map_pv_us_june_may

This gives the total solar energy on the panels as 180 * 6 = 1080kWh/day. (in June, the average over the year will be less)

According to http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/ask/electricity_faqs.asp the average daily electricity usage per US household in 2007 is 936 kWh/day.

So if they could convert all of the sun's incident energy to electricity and transmit it with no loss they could barely power 1 average US home!

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