While this blog is far from the place for political discussion, I think it can be interesting any time climbing finds its way into political discourse. Take, for instance, the example of Boulder’s Movement Climbing & Fitness Center which opened its doors last July. In building the gym, Movement took advantage of $157,800 in stimulus money to help offset a portion of the cost for a solar array which helps power the facility.
The effectiveness of the government’s stimulus efforts have been a hot topic in recent months, and in a recent edition of his Fox News TV show Great American™ conservative commentator Sean Hannity listed Movement’s solar array as the #2 biggest waste of stimulus dollars (I fast forwarded for you to the pertinent segment of the video. Feel free to rewind to the beginning of you must):
In response, Anne Worley Moelter, who co-owns Movement, had this to say to Boulder’s Daily Camera:
“We read it and were like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ It’s very hard for us to understand why they think that it’s a waste,” she said. “We’re putting energy back into the grid. We’ve provided Boulder with 50 new jobs. … I think it’s just a political scheme of, “How can we point out what this administration is doing wrong.'”
Like I said, this blog is not really the place for political discourse so I encourage you to read the rest of the story and the 100+ politically charged comments that go along with it at the Daily Camera’s website. Or you could just watch Chruck Fryberger’s remix of the above video:
Do us all a favor and only watch the Remix… wouldn’t want that bastard to see increased traffic on his vitriol-spewing youtube account.
Too late – ya can’t tantalize me with an article on politics and say you didn’t mean to start a political discussion. This one just hit’s too close to home for me cause I work in this field. Sorry folks, but there is a bit of misinformation on PV systems out there. Read further if your interested. Stop now if your not. Please.
I live in California, and I’m an engineer who designs photovoltaic projects, just like that one. Select school district in my area (high schools, middle schools and elementary schools) are all closing down one school due to insufficient funds (and I’m also engineering – electrically – of most of those schools to handle the influx of new students). Wasn’t stimulus money to protect education and prevent schools from having to lay off teachers and a whole lot of other things – was that our impression? Some of that money could have went to maintaining the funding for those schools. So yes, there is a lot of waste in stimulus money.
Look, I design these photovoltaic projects, and the carbon calculators to depict carbon offset of these systems are all over the map. Most of them average that a large photovoltaic project (one that likely 4 to 5 times the size talking about above) will offset the amount of carbon about 150-200 cars will create in 25 years – thats not a lot and speaks volumes of how far we’ve come with the internal combustion engine. By the way, after 25 years, your PV system is junk and needs to be replaced unless your happy with it producing less than half of what it originally did until it degrades completely. What do we do with all of that product? Landfill…
In addition, those carbon calculators don’t even consider the amount of carbon used to create all of the product to make these huge PV (solar) systems. It’s a lot of copper and a lot of steel in order to connect them to a grid, not just solar panels and they have to be huge to really create considerable energy. People just think it’s green cause that’s the impression we have.
It’s free energy from the sun right? But the most efficient PV panel produces a maximum of 22% of the energy it receives from the sun – thats the most efficient panel to date, and under absolutely perfect TEST conditions which never exist in a real installation. The reality of it is closer to 11% production on an average of all the panels out there – I pulled that number out of my ass, but it’s a better guess than some one who doesn’t know what they are talking about can come up with. Most panels give 15-17% under perfect test conditions. Dirt depreciation, cloudy days, bad angle, temperature, they are all factors not considered in a carbon offset calculator.
On top of that, each school in this area is getting a PV system, and huge ones, yup more work for me, non of it stimulus money. So how is it that they can afford millions of dollars in PV but at the same time have to close down schools; furthermore causing more traffic and carbon in certain areas because parents have to drive kids further to get to school. Because it’s green right? The logic is all wacky and I don’t see how anyone can disagree. We can’t think just cause it’s green = good. This is a complex arrangement of cause and effect. So, I got no problems with someone piping up on where and how our tax dollars are getting spent. Even though is intent and point are not the same as mine.
Once again, really sorry for even piping up about this here but I just couldn’t keep quite on this subject. Every other slightly political topic here I’ve kept my fingers free of the keyboard cause it just doesn’t belong here. This probably doesn’t either so my apologies. PV is great, but it shouldn’t be a priority for reducing carbon. There’s a lot of other social things we can do to help the environment that don’t involve tax dollars that are vital to certain functions of budgeting.
This story was posted early yesterday on B3 blog. You pick it up today and run with it and don’t credit the obvious source of your story? Pretty lame.
Ah, I see the link all the way at the bottom of the story. My apologies, just trying to make sure credit’s given.
Anyone that has read this site for any length of time knows that I always try my best to give credit as to where I learned about something. In this case I’ll admit that I could have done a better job in making things clear.
Thanks for the input. Whoever you are.
Yes, I am pretty new to your site. Thanks for the reply.
I was going to go into the fuzziness of how “green” the solar panels are, but toothbrush above kind of took care of that.
Hannity’s a d-bag, but nonetheless, I have to agree that a climbing gym in the people’s republic of boulderstan should not get $160 grand for anything. I think there’s a huge disconnect between taxing, and government spending. That is literally YOUR money being spent on that. The government is saying, “hey, that money you earned? Sorry, but Movement climbing gym needs a solar panel so that the vegans can feel better about themselves while doing their hot yoga.”
If the government is going to take tax dollars and use them to build things, fine, but put them toward things that EVERYONE benefits from, i.e. roads, infrastructure, schools (as someone else already mentioned), etc. I disprove of that gym getting that money just as much as I disprove of NFL team owners getting government money to put up stadiums.
(Disclosure: If I ever find a job I want in/near boulder, I will probably take it, and enjoy Movement climbing gym. Some of above was exaggerated [except that Hannity’s a d-bag. That was understated.])
I feel as though you are operating on a a base misunderstanding about how government subsidies are intended to work. The intention is not to provide MCF with an economic boost, but rather to boost the renewable energy industry by reducing the cost of designing and implementing such systems. MCF just happened to see value in investing in such a system and, therefore, was eligible for the grant.
I am personally very pleased that the government is spending my tax dollars on the expansion of renewable, decentralized energy, regardless of the venue.
Just my two cents,
50 Jobs? Yeah maybe for those in the in crowd of the boulder climbing scene. what a joke.
I worked on the design team on this project, so perhaps can shed a little light on the process.
We began this project not with power generation in mind, instead reducing the building’s energy consumption through daylighting, efficient heating and cooling, and proper orientation. This should always be the first step- how can we use less energy. Then, once the low-hanging fruit is picked we can generate power on site to reduce our carbon emissions.
After this was done, we put hot water and photovoltaic panels on the roof. Indeed pv panels have embodied energy in their manufacture, but the power produced over their lifetime will cover this and more. It has not been my experience that solar panels have to be replaced after 25 years. Our firm has panels installed in the ’70’s that are still cranking out power. To reduce the effect of dirt on the panels we installed spigots on the roof so staff can clean them as needed.
Responding to Sean’s comment, this system is public infrastructure. It spreads out power generation throughout the grid, preventing the need for more power plants to be constructed to meet peak summer demand. Also, de-centralizing our power production has efficiency benefits (less line losses) and means that a power plant going down has less impact on the grid as a whole.
The government funds were applied for by Movement, and are open to any like-minded business owner. Furthermore, the gym had to front a good amount to match the government funds.
We would have done a disservice to development of high-efficiency buildings to not use available funds the government has put in place. Case studies like this project mean more buildings can be built like it in the future, with our without government funding.
Thanks to Sarah and Toothbrush for their additions to the discussion!
Sarah – So that panel helps prevent the need for power plants to be constructed? Does it actually produce more power than the building uses over a month per se (or year, given winter/loudy days?)
What was the actual cost of the solar system, vs. not including it? $160k I believe is what the govt provided, but what’s the bottom line? How many years will it take to break even on it? I have friends that work in solar (live in the bay area, ca) and they all say these panels are not super efficient, especially not by the end of their rated lifetime.
Also, for the record. I’m not saying it was wrong of Movement to ask for/grab these funds. I’m saying it was wrong for them to be made available in the first place.
If it actually was/is cost effective to use the solar panel, I don’t see why the business would have chosen to build without it, government funding, or not.
Average cost of a commercial installation is $10 per Watt of PV. A PV system produces (depending on the panel) upwards of 13-15 Watts per square foot of PV.
There are programs for buildings to be considered green buildings here in CA. Most of them shoot for an offset in yearly energy usage cost of 12-15%. If we want to keep it simple. Imagine your downtown library, put solar on 30-40% of it’s total roof space and thats what we are looking at. It takes a big system, big system to make up 100% of energy usage. Also, that figure is for an advanced HVAC technology building with natural building cooling effects (like Sarah mentioned). If we were to put solar on a non-energy efficient building from 10-20 years ago or a school thats getting modernized we would need a lot more.
I hope I didn’t come across like I was harping on Momentum for using government dollars. This is how the vast majority of PV projects go up. Very few of the ones I design are private funding. Reason is, it’s super expensive and it’s a major investment that takes 25 years to pay off. Most utility agreements for payback last 25 years for you to break even. After that you get no money back on your PV, your just helping the environment and your local utility co.
My stance (similar to Sean) was that if the stimulus money can be readily available for PV technology (which has been around for 50 years almost) why can’t it be available for the schools that are getting shut down in my area. I just think there could have been some more proactive prioritizing but everyone is so glad for anything green it’s clouding some aspects of critical thinking. It really had little to do with Momentum or the building process of it and I think it was cool of Sarah to chime in.
Oh BTW, we found that using sprinkler heads to wash the panels was causing sun spots on them when they dried and further reducing efficiency. Also there is a lot of exposed wire so it becomes dangerous of anything gets more than rain water. The best method and cheapest was to hire a crew to do it by hand. Also, old systems will still crank out power, it’s not like they just keel over and die but it’s minimal in relation to what it was intended for. This is why no solar vendor offers warranties for over 25 years. Most are 10 to 15.
Sarah – Also just want to clarify, regardless of the answers to those, good for you. People like Sean Hannity bitching about “a CLIMBING gym in Colorado”…”aren’t there real rocks to climb outside, under the sun?” are the real problem. His snide comment is a red herring…it’s a gym, where people go do many things. You can’t climb at night, indoor climbing is different, safer for new people or day to day training, there are non climbing activities taking place there, etc, etc. But he’s not interested in the “real story”, so much as saying whatever will aggravate his idiot followers.
At least you’re trying to make things better, people like him want to keep us in the stone age. I wish I didn’t share a name with that guy.
The already sparse intersection of people who like Sean Hannity, and people who rock climb in Boulder, Colorado grows ever thinner. Whatever, Hannity would probably be a bolt chopper if he were a climber anyways. To be fair, I’m sure that Obama would be a spraylord. “Move your foot higher, good. Flip that hold to an undercling. Good. Yes you can. Come on now, grab the jug. Now that’s change we can believe in.”
My faith in the climbing community is partiality restored. What a thought provoking discussion. After reading “green” issue of Climbing magazine, I wanted to puke. To many people buy into the “Green is Good” deally. There is a lot of more that goes into environmentalism then buying reusable grocery bags and curly light bulbs. It is obvious from this discussion that there are climbers out there that get it. It really frustrates me that Movement got this money from the government. I don’t blame them for taking it. I would, but I agree with Hannity, it is a waste of my taxes. I would love to see us all have solar panels on our houses and drive hybrids but when the rubber meets the road,there is no cost benefit for me and my family. I wish their was. I love the discussion and just to let you guys You are all Great Americans!
I believe that Movement put up roughly 1/2 of the cost of the system, so they definitely had some skin in the game on this one, it took a client who was committed to energy reduction to get the funding.
We are energy monitoring the building, and yes we believe it will make more energy than it uses over a yearly basis (the array is 100kWh). Most importantly, on hot August afternoons the building will be absolutely cranking out electricity, helping reduce the demand on the grid from air conditioning, which accounts for the peak electricity demand in our area. Essentially the government didn’t care what we do in the building, but they liked the size of our roof ‘hey, nice roof!’It’s big, it’s flat… it faces south….
FYI we also have hot water solar up there, which is more efficient that photovoltaics and produces hot water for the showers and faucets. We got away with a residential size boiler just for backup, for a 22,000 s.f. building.
This is indeed an intriguing and complex discussion. Having read the above posts it’s apparent that 2 issues are being muddled: the first concerns the social and economic value of solar PV systems; the second is a debate focused on the merits of deficit spending.
Sure, PV isn’t perfect and people are entitled to their opinions concerning taxation, However, i fear that this discussions’ anti-taxation slant holds renewables in bad-light (ha ha?). On the contrary, renewables are integral to sustaining our energy needs, especially in a state like the US, which is heavily reliant on foreign oil.
For those you who are interested in reviewing the impact the renewables can have on job creation i recommend checking out what Feed in Tariff programs have done for places like Spain and Ontario.
Now for some discrediting context and personal views: I am a Canadian. I vote Liberal (it’s not a bad word up here) and like health care. I’m doing graduate work in environmental studies. For what it’s worth i think Graig, who can’t see why investing in renewables is good for his family, ought to consider the long term implications of inaction. Sean’s recommendation that money be spent building highways is also deeply flawed as they are extremely expensive, contribute to our auto-focused and petro-dependant society, and require tonnes of GHG-intensive concrete.
Thanks for reading this annoyingly long comment and GREAT BLOG.
Dan – I mentioned highways as something that is truly a “public good.” I really meant anything that didn’t specifically go to one private sector business. So I think you’re kind of making a straw man argument out of my choice of words.
However, as much as I’d like to live in a world that was less “petro-dependant” as you put it, America is not going to re-architect itself that fast. In the meanwhile, there are crumbling highways and roads that need repair, that many people use, not just movement’s members.
As to your discrediting comments, don’t you have hockey to play or something?
Your comments are appreciated and I apologize for perhaps harshly wording my criticism (even if i stand by it).
Trying to decide what classifies as a “public good” is itself an interesting topic and I suspect we might not agree on what is and isn’t in that category.
Hockey shmockey. I spend my time building igloos, sucking back maple syrup and unnecessarily saying eh.
Congrats on health care.
Cheers and thanks.
Thanks again to everyone who offered a well reasoned, civil argument on either side of this issue!
The term ‘Green’ is a major distraction. The stakes are not whether something ‘Is Green’ or not, or whether Green is always bad or not. For some people Green means ecologically sound, and so by that definition something is not ‘green’ unless it is good. For others, green means things that are quintessentially environmental, like solar panels, organic food, local, etc. things which are not inherently good, and so by that definition, green would not always = good.
Its silly to argue over the presence or desirability of Green, just speak directly about the merits of a given technology and you wont have arguments rendered irresolvable by semantic drift.
Green is just an idea, being less wasteful is a practice. People thinking through categories confuse the means and the ends, and start looking at what things are labeled rather than what they actually do.