Government Office Building’s Solar Array Is A Half-Million Dollar Metaphor For Failure

Solar panels and pipe dreamsIs there a more perfect metaphor for the dead-end pipe-dream thinking of “green jobs” spending than the solar panel array, purchased with $550,000 of federal economic stimulus funds, outside the renovated Dillards building on West Capitol?*

What was once a corporate headquarters has been repurposed as an environmentally friendly office building for state agencies.The building opened  in 2010, and touted with great fanfare as a monument to green construction and 21st century efficiency.

But nearly two years later, the solar panels are not operational, due to an abstruse legal contract dispute I won’t even pretend to understand, reports the Arkansas News Bureau’s John Lyon:

In operation for nearly two years, a key component of the building’s environment-friendly character — a solar array expected to generate as much as 3 percent of the building’s energy needs — has yet to be switched on because of an unrelated contract dispute between Arkansas Tech University and Entergy Arkansas.

“At some point we’ll have an agreement of some sort and get these babies hooked up,” said Joe Holmes, spokesman for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, of which the energy office is a division.

Last month, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of the Inspector General testified to Congress that, upon review, much of the DOE’s stimulus spending had been “less than optimal,” citing the various obstacles to wise investment of the funds. Presumably, paying a half million dollars for a solar array that sits dormant for two years (and counting!) would fall under the heading of “less than optimal.”

My favorite part is that once they’re working, those babies are expected to generate “as much as 3 percent of the building’s energy needs.” I like to think Lyon had his tongue firmly in cheek in breathlessly emphasizing that really not particularly impressive at all detail. Brave New World!

Switch remains off for solar panels until legal dispute settled (Arkansas News Bureau)

*ANSWER: NO. There is no more perfect metaphor for the dead-end pipe-dream thinking of “green jobs” spending than the solar panel array, purchased with $550,000 of federal economic stimulus funds, outside the renovated Dillards building on West Capitol.

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3 thoughts on “Government Office Building’s Solar Array Is A Half-Million Dollar Metaphor For Failure

  • December 21, 2011 at 3:27 pm
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    So the problem is a bureaucratic nightmare between the utility lawyers and government lawyers, rather than a problem with solar technology itself. It sounds like the panels may be connected into Entergy’s infrastructure somehow, so Entergy may have some legitimate concerns. The state may have to get an insurance policy for the solar panels.

    I wonder if solar panels manufacturers could work out a certification process with the electric utilities, similar to the rules that allow consumers to attach devices like answering machines, modems and fax machines to phone lines? AT&T used to prohibit those devices during the original Bell monopoly – until the FCC’s “Carterfone” decision in 1968 overruled AT&T.

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  • December 21, 2011 at 4:23 pm
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    RC,
    Yes. And I suppose there remains some lingering question as to how swiftly the solar panels will recoup their substantial cost, given the relatively small proportion of the building’s energy they’ll generate. Perhaps it will be sooner than we would expect.
    D.

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