If the people of Bedford, Texas, are still borrowing whatever they are calling books in 72 years, they may find themselves in the public library on the very day the energy saved by the library’s planned solar power system finally equals the cost to build it.
The solar plant in Bedford, between Fort Worth and Dallas, would not have been built at all without a nearly $2 million Department of Energy stimulus grant.
The same could be said of nearly all the other 31 projects in Texas given approval for stimulus funding by the State Energy Conservation Office. Most of these projects, either started or just getting started, are 80 percent paid for by taxpayers, out of a pool of $52 million dollars, which is itself a small part of the roughly 290 million federal tax dollars given to Texas for various energy programs through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Factor in federal assistance, and the University of Texas-Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas can afford to build a solar array that won’t return its investment for 72 years. As officials at Southwestern told the Dallas Morning News, they would not have been able to afford solar, either, without a lot of federal help. Austin Community College can equip two of its campuses with solar, and its savings will not offset costs for more than 52 years.
Remove the assistance and the entire solar industry, not just in Texas but nationwide would be in jeopardy, says Mark Rangel, general manager for Texas Solar Power Co. in Austin. The hard truth is that the yawning gulf between the desirability and the affordability of solar power for businesses and homeowners has been filled year after year with billions of taxpayer and utility user dollars.
It is likely that none of the $52 million in state energy solar projects will be anything close to profit making. With the current technology, the life of a solar generation system is about 25 years. If a solar generation system has to be overhauled two or, maybe three times, the break-even point can never be reached.