RATEPAYERS AND TAXPAYERS PAY FOR SEATTLE'S SOLAR AGENDA

May 6, 2009

Last December, a request for $7 million from the federal stimulus package to put solar panels on Seattle's Qwest Exhibition Hall appeared on the U.S. Conference of Mayors list of "shovel ready" projects…as did the city's request for $1.2 million to install 25 kilowatts of renewable energy in "comfort stations" and restrooms in Magnuson Park.  These two projects demonstrate how little attention is paid to the actual costs and benefits of environmental projects and how politics plays the primary role in decision-making, says the Todd Myers of the Washington Policy Center (WPC).

Neither come close to penciling out in a reasonable time period, says Myers:

  • The Qwest solar panels would recover depreciated costs only after 40 years and the panels on the "comfort stations" at Magnuson Park would take about 50 years without taking into account some of the government subsidies.
  • To make up that gap, the City simply looks for tax subsidies to make up the difference; these dollars, however, are not free money.
  • Moreover, since these projects are not subjected to any sort of cost-benefit assessment, the funding is not tied to any real result.
  • As a result, Seattle could spend millions on projects but find that they had done very little to help the environment.

Projects were chosen because they are visible and have positive political benefit, says Myers:

  • When politicians see money as free, they spend it on what is important to them: political capital.
  • Both of these projects fail any reasonable cost-benefit analysis.
  • They were advocated, however, because they provided opportunities for politicians to claim credit for reducing greenhouse gases.

Until the city and others who advocate such projects take a more serious look at their costs and benefits, they cannot claim to be friends of the environment and certainly cannot claim to be spending taxes wisely, says Myers.

Source: Todd Myers, "Ratepayers and Taxpayers Pay for Seattle's Solar Agenda," Environmental Watch (Washington Policy Center), April 2009.

 

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