110 Years to Pay for Those Denver Solar Panels?


Yesterday, President Barack Obama signed the $787 billion economic stimulus bill after touring the solar panel installation on the roof of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

Since the bill is loaded up with green energy goodies, the president's handlers no doubt thought that the tour made a great photo opportunity. The implied message is that instead of "a chicken in every pot," we'll get "a solar panel on every roof" with the stimulus plan.

But as nice as those panels look, just how practical are they? Well, the Denver Business Journal looked into the project last summer and found that the 465 panel 100-kilowatt installation cost $720,000 and will produce about 130,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. According to the Journal, electricity from the solar array will replace between 2 and 12 per cent of the museum's electricity demand. In fact, an internal museum report says the solar panels will supply only 1 to 2 percent of the museum's electricity needs. But, according to the Journal, here's the real kicker:

The museum wanted a solar system to support its educational mission and cut energy costs as well as the building's carbon footprint. But the payout period would have been too long to make it financially feasible.

"We looked at first installing it ourselves, and without any of the incentive programs, it was a 110-year payout," said [Dave Noel, vice president of operations and chief technology officer for the museum]. "The [museum's] board was supportive of the program, but said it had to make sense financially."

A 110-year payout? Let's hope that Noel was exaggerating, but I fear that he was not. Not surprisingly, the installation was only made possible by extensive use of government subsidy programs. Anyone want a chicken?