State ignores the cost of eco-savings

Would you spend $880,000 to save $147,000?

Washington state did.

Earlier this year the state opened a new 2,000-bed prison called the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center that some are calling the “nation’s greenest prison.”

The facility meets LEED Gold standards, as required by a state law passed in 2005.

While LEED Gold is particularly expensive, one aspect of the new prison stands out — its installation of solar panels.

The prison features a “solar array that covers 16,929 square feet” that is rated at 75kw of energy.

Installation cost taxpayers $880,000 — money provided from a grant offered by the state to renewable energy projects.

Installing those solar panels will save the state an estimated $4,000 to $7,000 a year in electricity costs. The life span of solar panels is typically 25 years, meaning the total savings is likely to be in the range of $140,000.

Some argue that even though the solar panels aren’t economically responsible, they are environmentally responsible because they cut carbon emissions.

Solar energy fails this test, as well.

In Washington state, for every megawatt hour (MWh) of electricity, we emit 322 pounds of CO2. Annually, those solar panels will produce about 91 MWh, reducing carbon emissions by 13 metric tons a year.

The average cost of a metric ton of carbon emissions on the European Climate Exchange is about $20.

In other words, the state could buy the same amount of carbon emissions reductions for about $270 a year.

Over the 25-year life span, this means the state will achieve carbon emissions reductions worth about $6,700.

So, adding the $6,700 to the $140,000 yields a savings of $146,700 for the low cost of $880,000.

The state is spending $6 to save $1.

Remember, all of the costs are paid immediately, and during a time of budget shortfalls and serious cuts to state programs in the social safety net.

The savings come in the future.

Solar panels are a trendy option for politicians wanting to appear “green.” Unfortunately for taxpayers and the environment, spending scarce state funds on solar panels is economically and environmentally irresponsible.

Todd Myers is director of the Center for Environment at the Washington Policy Center.

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