RENEWABLE ENERGY

Paybacks of solar energy more than financial

Since the completion of the Merrillville Town Hall photovoltaic project (solar electric panels) there has been a lot of controversy over the cost and long term payback of this system. These payback calculations neglect the environmental benefits of renewable energy (RE) as well as the fact that energy prices are certain to rise several times over the life of this system; and it is a long life indeed. One man even went so far as to suggest that investing the money would be a smarter thing to do. I don’t suppose he has been watching what has happened to my retirement fund in the last year or so…

The fact is that RE systems are expensive, but they do eventually payback. You are investing in your long term energy security and locking in a rate that doesn’t change for the life of the system; all the while increasing your property value. It’s also important to realize that as demand and production has increased, the cost of these systems has been coming down. Since I began studying photovoltaics three years ago, the cost of panels has dropped by 33%. Should we wait until a technology is cheap and has a rapid payback to try to develop it?

How do you calculate the payback of environmental and health benefits from RE? If we reduce the incidents of respiratory disease and cancer in our society by reducing the toxins pumped into our atmosphere and water from producing electricity by burning coal, what is the payback to our children and grandchildren? What about the effects of reducing over 5 tons of carbon emissions from our atmosphere annually from this system alone? Imagine if there were thousands of these systems across Northwest Indiana.

The lion’s share of the funding for this project came from an educational grant from the Indiana Offices of Energy and Defense Development; keywords being “energy” and “development”. Remaining funding came from forward thinking members of our business community that realize the benefits of promoting green technologies. The labor was all donated by members of the Northwest Indiana Building Trades and used as an educational tool to train for the coming “Green Job Revolution”. A 5 minute video about this can be viewed on the internet at:

http://www.bestlightproductions.com/solar.htm

The arguments and benefits for and against RE are more than this column allows space for. I have reserved a meeting room at the Lake County Public Library, Central Branch at 1919 West 81st Avenue Merrillville, Indiana for the dates of Monday May 4 at 6-8:30 PM and Saturday May 30 at 9:30 AM until noon to show the short documentary film “Kilowatt Ours” to be followed by a short lecture on the benefits of energy efficiency and RE. This event is free and open to the public.

Tracy Hall, LEED AP

Munster, IN

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