Thursday, December 22, 2011

EDITORIAL Beloit Daily News: Let sun shine on payback



Posted: Wednesday, December 21, 2011 image4:00 pm


EDITORIAL: Let sun shine on payback

Another example of why alternative energy can be tough sell.


THOSE SOLAR PANELS on top of (Beloit) City Hall look all cool and high-tech, and presumably will win Beloit a few plaudits for going green and demonstrating environmental sensitivity.

But what about the math?

According to numbers provided to the Daily News by City Hall, the project carried a price tag of about $180,000. The 125 solar panels will produce a trickle of electricity — about 30 kilowatts at peak performance. Projections call for the panels to reduce the City Hall utility costs 8-9 percent, somewhere in the range of maybe $3,500 a year.

CRUNCH THOSE NUMBERS and this is what you get: Return on investment, or payback, will take more than 50 years.

And, by the way, the system is designed to last around 40 years.

In a nutshell, this is why alternative energy has such a tough time catching on in America. This is a bottom-line country, where hard-nosed business types crunch numbers with ferocity. Investments are made because the numbers add up and there’s a reasonable plan for a solid return. Sentimentality and wishful thinking don’t make the cut.

So solar panels with weak payback or electric cars that conk out every 40 miles have a tough time finding a market in the private sector.

Instead, panels wind up on government roofs.

What’s next? Electric fire engines?

Where is Gov. Walker’s money opposing the recall coming from?

About half is from out of state.

Some of the largest donations include:

• $250,000 by Bob Perry of Houston, famous for the "Swift Boat" ads against John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign.

• $205,500 by Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein of Illinois, who run Uline Shipping Supply Specialists. Walker is scheduled to deliver a jobs announcement Friday from a Uline plant in Hudson, Wis.

• $100,000 by Foster Friess of Wyoming, a philanthropist and Wisconsin native.

• $50,000 by Roger Hertog, co-founder of The New York Sun and current chairman of the Manhattan Institute.

• $20,000 by H.R. Perot of Plano, Texas, chairman of Perot Systems and son of the two-time third-party candidate for president, Ross Perot.

"In all our years of analysis, we have never seen a politician try to win a Wisconsin race with so much non-Wisconsin money," said Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Now executive director.

Some of the bigger in-state contributors were the Schuettes, the family that runs Wausau Homes Inc. They gave $150,000 in total.

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