A Greener Indiana

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A rebuttal to Larry Wilson's criticism of the Merrillville Town Hall Solar Project

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Then read:

Larry Wilson Letter to the Editor

People in region need to do math on benefits of solar energy technology

I read the article about Merrillville install solar panels on the town hall building to save $650 a year on energy costs. They can probably save that amount by caulking around doors and windows, installing door sweeps and sealing off electrical outlets to stop drafts.

How many of these politicians who had input to use this money this way would do that at their own homes? Do the math, people. A $23,250 grant divided by a $650 savings a year would take 38 years to break even. Merrillville Town Hall probably won't be there in 38 years.

At the end of 38 years, if you put $23,250 in the bank at 5 percent interest rate you would have $148,462. And if it was compounded daily or even monthly, it would be thousands more at the end of 38 years.

If Merrillville can't find a better way of spending this money, they should give it back so somebody else that can use it better can have it.

Larry Wilson, Munster

My Response to Mr. Wilson:

Rebuttal to Larry Wilson’s “People in region need to do the math on benefits of solar energy technology”

I applaud Mr. Wilson’s ability to do simple payback calculations. And yes, he is absolutely right; money spent on energy efficiency measures always has a faster payback and initially makes more sense than investing in renewable energy. In fact, one dollar spent on energy efficiency is worth three spent on renewable energy (RE). What Mr. Wilson fails to understand is that the grant proposal that was authored by me and one of Merrillville’s hardest working employees, Town Administrator Howard Fink was for a grant from Indiana’s Offices of Energy and Defense Development. The key words in that department name are “Energy” and “Development”. And just to set the record straight, Howard is not a politician, nor an elected official. He is an employee of the town, and as I previously stated, one of the hardest working civil servants I have had the pleasure of working with.
The “politicians” that Mr. Wilson refers to did not have any say so as to how this grant funding could be spent. It was expressly to be used for RE systems with an emphasis on education. With this grant money, not only did the Town of Merrillville receive an RE system, 12 area electricians were educated in siting, designing, and installing these systems. About the same number of apprentice roofers were trained on the implications of a rooftop installation of this nature (this won’t be the last one Mr. Wilson). The local chapter of International Association of Electrical Inspectors was invited to the installation and given materials specific to inspecting and permitting of RE systems so that when some forward thinking individual decides that this is something they want to do, the inspector can make sure that their installation is safe and National Electrical Code compliant. The town has published a tri-fold pamphlet available to the public to explain briefly how this photovoltaic system works. The town has also granted access to future generations of electricians to observe this system for a “hands on” approach to learning.
All of the labor for this project was donated by the Northwest Indiana Building Trades. All of the materials used for this project were donated by local area supply houses and contractors. Why would people waste so much of their own resources on such wasteful spending? Because they are forward thinking and they know the value of the “Green Job” revolution that is coming and what it can do to boost this stagnant economy that we have fallen into. The RE industry has the potential to be one of the greatest economic engines of this century and these individuals are way ahead of the curve.
This photovoltaic (PV) system that Mr. Wilson is berating will offset nearly 5 tons of carbon from the atmosphere annually. It produces no emissions and its virtually free fuel source comes from a nuclear reactor 93 million miles away from the Earth that we call the sun. It is essentially maintenance free and runs automatically. When you invest in a RE system, you are increasing your property value with something that will likely last longer than you. Commercial users can depreciate an RE system for even quicker payback. You are paying for your energy up front and living off of the interest. You are buying a power plant that will give you free energy for years. The simple payback calculation that Mr. Wilson refers to also neglects the fact that historically energy prices rise. As those prices rise, that payback period decreases. With an RE system you lock in your rate for decades. When you go to sell your property it will retain its high value for decades. Mono crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells experience a degradation of about ½% per year. That means that in 50 years they will still be producing about 75% of their rated output. Some of the earliest produced PV modules from the 1950’s are still producing a significant amount of power. Breakthroughs in efficiency and production methods of PV cells continue to drive costs down. As the market ramps up production, the costs drop and eventually PV will reach grid parity, even in Indiana.
Presently in this country we are producing most of our electricity by burning fossil fuels; particularly coal. It is dirty, polluting, and hazardous to human health. Is it a coincidence that cancer and respiratory diseases like asthma have risen dramatically in the last several decades along with our thirst for more power? What is the cost of healthcare in this country and how much of it can be attributed to the fowl air we breathe, polluted with mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, arsenic, heavy metals, etc… What is the payback when you consider the damage to the environment and the eventual cost of healthcare? What is the legacy we leave for our children and our grandchildren when they have to use oxygen masks to survive? The RE industry can solve this problem by providing us with clean power.
As far as the government subsidizing the RE industry, why do you think our power is so cheap? It is because the government subsidizes it. If the government subsidized renewables the way they do coal and oil in this country we would all have wind turbines and PV systems on our property generating clean power. If you are so intrigued with simple payback calculations Mr. Wilson, what is the payback of the vehicle you drive? Will it last for decades and provide you with maintenance free power for years; eventually paying for itself and then actually giving you a return on your investment? I realize that this is an apples to oranges comparison, but you need transportation and you need energy. I would venture to guess that your vehicle cost is similar to the cost of a PV system and is unlikely to ever payback; just like the coal generated electricity that we all buy. What is the payback of a coal fired generation plant?
When I got home after this installation Saturday, my wife and children looked upon me with so much pride for what I have done. They know that this is the future. They know that this is the right thing to do. And Mr. Wilson, so do I.

Tracy Hall, LEED AP, IBEW Local 697 Photovoltaic Instructor
Munster, IN

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Comment by Embracing Green Productions on February 12, 2010 at 11:16am
Well said. I love it when we put rear sighted people in their place. Thanks for sharing.

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