Want to pay more and get less? Green energy is for you

Victor Joecks

David Schwartz of the Las Vegas Sun had a great piece this weekend on the cost of green energy in Nevada.

The state is considering switching to solar power for a significant number of its buildings and facilities, even though critics question whether the change would save taxpayers money.

A politically connected Sparks company would have the first right to develop solar projects on 53 government properties and sell the generated energy back to the state, under the proposal Nevada officials are evaluating.

The four-year deal with GA-SNC Solar could spur $300 million in private investment, according to the state energy office. GA-SNC Solar is a partnership between international solar company Gestamp Solar and Sierra Nevada Corp., a Northern Nevada defense contractor that has been a heavy contributor to elected officials, including Gov. Jim Gibbons. …

Commercial Solar Services, a competing company in Reno, argued in a letter to the state that the price of energy under GA-SNC Solar's contract, at 17 cents per kilowatt hour, would be 54 percent higher than what the state pays NV Energy.

To bolster its argument, Commercial Solar cites a contract that GA-SNC Solar-partner Sierra Nevada secured for a 2.6-megawatt solar project at a Nevada Army National Guard facility. According Commercial Solar Services' letter, the National Guard is paying 18 cents per kilowatt-hour from that project, compared with the 11 cents per kilowatt-hour it paid before the installation.

The piece is especially timely, because most politicians are claiming that green energy projects and green jobs are a key to Nevada's future economic growth.

Green energy and green jobs may be important for Nevada some day, but right now those industries are dependent on government subsidies, mandates and tax breaks for survival. You can't create long-term economic growth through government spending and intervention. Exhibit A: the failed stimulus.

Also, the Heritage Foundation points out that some solar projects require billions (yes, billions) of gallons of water per year – a problem that is especially pertinent in Nevada.

Green energy technology is famously unreliable but it also faces serious technical issues, including the fact that solar farms consume billions of gallons of water every year where water isn't available. For instance, Solar Millenium announced the construction of two solar farms in Armagosa Valley, Nevada that would consume 1.3 billion gallons of water per year, (20% of the desert valley's available water). Many people became concerned about the scarcity of water resources and the environmental impact of this massive water consumption on wildlife. More generally, many communities that foster green energy projects are facing water shortage problems.

Until we let all types of energy succeed or fail on their merits, not on their ability to garner special favors from the government, we'll continue to pay more for energy.