Trump eyes wall with so­lar pan­els

Lat­est pro­posal to cover cost

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

Pres­i­dent Trump took a fur­ther step back this week from his pledge to force Mex­ico to pay for the bor­der wall, in­stead say­ing he is con­sid­er­ing stick­ing so­lar pan­els on top of the fence and sell­ing the en­ergy to help fund the costs.

The pro­posal — which he said he came up with on his own and was re­veal­ing for the first time — is the lat­est in a long line of sug­ges­tions for cov­er­ing a price tag that could eas­ily top $20 bil­lion.

“We’re talk­ing about the south­ern bor­der, lots of sun, lots of heat. We’re think­ing about build­ing the wall as a so­lar wall so it cre­ates en­ergy and pays for it­self,” the pres­i­dent told sup­port­ers at a rally in Iowa on Wed­nes­day night. “And this way, Mex­ico

will have to pay much less money. And that’s good, right?”

An­a­lysts said it’s doubt­ful that so­lar en­ergy could pay for the en­tire cost of the wall but could pro­vide a de­cent sum — the same as many of the other op­tions sug­gested on Capi­tol Hill and across the coun­try.

At least three plans have been in­tro­duced in Congress.

Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Repub­li­can, has writ­ten the El Chapo Act, which would take money for­feited by drug king­pins such as the in­fa­mous for­mer head of the Si­naloa drug car­tel, and ear­mark it for wall con­struc­tion. Mr. Cruz said the U.S. gov­ern­ment is seek­ing some $14 bil­lion in for­feited drug pro­ceeds from El Chapo alone.

Sen. Luther Strange, Alabama Repub­li­can, and Sen. David Per­due, Ge­or­gia Repub­li­can, joined up on a bill to with­hold fed­eral trans­porta­tion money from sanc­tu­ary cities. They said it would serve the dual pur­pose of find­ing money for build­ing a wall and en­cour­ag­ing more cities to co­op­er­ate with fed­eral de­por­ta­tion agents.

“This leg­is­la­tion will re­store the rule of law in sanc­tu­ary cities while help­ing fund the pres­i­dent’s prom­ise,” Mr. Strange said.

His pro­posal has earned the back­ing of Sen. Ron Johnson, Wis­con­sin Repub­li­can and chair­man of the Se­nate Home­land Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee.

In the House, Rep. Mike D. Rogers, Alabama Repub­li­can, has writ­ten the Bor­der Wall Fund­ing Act, which would im­pose a 2 per­cent fee on re­mit­tance money wired from the U.S. to Mex­ico and dozens of other Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries. Mex­ico alone got some $27 bil­lion in re­mit­tances last year, so a 2 per­cent fee could have earned Un­cle Sam more than a half-bil­lion dol­lars.

Mr. Trump had floated a re­mit­tances tax dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, and there is prece­dent for it. Ok­la­homa im­poses a tax on funds wired out­side its borders.

But the pres­i­dent now ap­pears to be go­ing in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion with his so­lar-panel plans.

It’s an idea Vi­jay Dug­gal, an ar­chi­tect in New York, sug­gested ear­lier this year. He said he was thrilled when he heard Mr. Trump is on board.

“I’m very ex­cited. Hope­fully he fol­lows through,” he told The Wash­ing­ton Times.

He sub­mit­ted plans to the Home­land Se­cu­rity De­part­ment in­for­mally but didn’t take part in the on­go­ing com­pe­ti­tion for ven­dors try­ing to win the wall con­tract. Mr. Dug­gal said he is an ar­chi­tect, not a full-ser­vice con­struc­tion con­trac­tor.

His con­cept, which he posted months ago to Bor­der-Wall.us, calls for a 50-foot wall with five tiers of so­lar pan­els. But he also in­cludes wind tur­bines, say­ing so­lar en­ergy alone wouldn’t be enough to pay for the wall. He cal­cu­lated rev­enue of $1.2 bil­lion a year from both sources.

Mr. Dug­gal said there are ways to make the wall rugged enough to with­stand the rig­ors of the bor­der, which in­clude re­peated at­tempts to cut or smash through ex­ist­ing walls. Mex­i­cans also reg­u­larly throw rocks at agents on the U.S. side of the wall. Mr. Dug­gal said pre-cast con­crete pan­els be­hind the so­lar pan­els could pre­vent that.

Per­haps the most unique pro­posal came ear­lier this year from Sher­iff Thomas Hodgson in Bris­tol County, Massachusetts. He sug­gested that jail in­mates could vol­un­teer to help build the wall as part of prison work pro­grams.

The pro­posal proved to be con­tro­ver­sial. The Massachusetts House last month passed leg­is­la­tion that would ban the pro­posal. That bill is now await­ing ac­tion in the state’s Se­nate.

Of­fi­cials at U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion de­clined to com­ment Thurs­day on Mr. Trump’s sug­ges­tions.

They have al­ready se­lected a group of con­trac­tors who sub­mit­ted plans this year. Those plans are be­ing re­fined, and a group of fi­nal­ists will be paid to build pro­to­types in Cal­i­for­nia this year.

CBP will then sub­ject the pro­to­types to a series of tests. Ac­cord­ing to the con­tract doc­u­ments, CBP was hop­ing for a 30-foot fence that would be im­pos­ing in ap­pear­ance, would de­ter climbers and would take four hours to punc­ture.

Mr. Trump orig­i­nally had said he wanted a wall across the south­west­ern bor­der, but his top aides have since backed off that. The pres­i­dent also said dur­ing the cam­paign that Mex­ico would pay for the cost, though the first sev­eral bud­get sub­mis­sions shunt the cost onto Amer­i­can tax­pay­ers.

The pres­i­dent had said he would try to soak Mex­ico for the money later, but his com­ments Wed­nes­day about re­duc­ing the price tag for Mex­ico sig­nal he may have even given up on that hope.

Some 354 miles of the bor­der are al­ready fenced, and another 300 miles have ve­hi­cle bar­ri­ers that are meant to stop cars and trucks bar­rel­ing through but al­low pedes­tri­ans easy ac­cess. In his bud­get, Mr. Trump asks for 32 more miles of fenc­ing to be built in Texas at a cost of $784 mil­lion, or $24.5 mil­lion a mile.

That is four times the $6 mil­lion per mile that Home­land Se­cu­rity spent on fenc­ing for re­cent up­grades in Ari­zona. The de­part­ment said the in­crease is a re­sult of in­fla­tion.

The Bor­der Pa­trol says new fenc­ing is needed to plug holes in de­fenses.

But con­gres­sional Democrats have vowed to op­pose any money for more walls.

In a let­ter led by Sen. Ka­mala D. Har­ris, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, a group of the Se­nate’s most lib­eral mem­bers said costs could run to nearly $70 bil­lion for con­struc­tion, not in­clud­ing main­te­nance costs.

“Build­ing a wall along the south­west bor­der would di­vert crit­i­cal re­sources away from more ef­fec­tive mea­sures to en­sure bor­der safety, such as in­vest­ing in port-of-en­try se­cu­rity and procur­ing new tech­nolo­gies that mon­i­tor move­ments of peo­ple who try to cross the bor­der,” the sen­a­tors said in a let­ter ad­dressed to the spend­ing com­mit­tee that will have to vote on fund­ing.

The sen­a­tors also said they want cuts in de­ten­tion beds and de­por­ta­tion of­fi­cers even be­low the lev­els of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Bars separate Ti­juana, Mex­ico, from San Diego where the bor­der meets the Pa­cific Ocean. Un­der Pres­i­dent Trump’s lat­est plan, the bars would be re­placed by a bor­der wall with so­lar pan­els in a re­gion with abun­dant sun­shine that could be con­verted into en­ergy.

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