Sun­shine on the wall

Trump sug­gests so­lar power to pay for his wall on the bor­der

The Washington Times Daily - - EDITORIAL -

Con­gres­sional Democrats love to spend money on so­lar power and in­fra­struc­ture projects, and Pres­i­dent Trump has given them some­thing to think about — us­ing the sun to power and pay for his bor­der wall.

Pres­i­dent Trump has floated the idea of in­cor­po­rat­ing so­lar pan­els into his pro­posed “big, beautiful wall” on the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der. Maybe he got the idea from Mary Pop­pins, who fa­mously ob­served that “a spoon­ful of sugar helps the medicine go down in a most de­light­ful way.” Such a bor­der wall may be just the medicine needed to cure ir­ri­ta­ble-bor­der syn­drome.

With tem­per­a­tures hit­ting 120 de­grees in Phoenix, the first day of sum­mer was just the time to of­fer a novel in­fra­struc­ture sug­ges­tion. “I will give you an idea that no­body has heard about yet,” Mr. Trump told an au­di­ence Wed­nes­day night in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “The south­ern bor­der: Lots of sun, lots of heat. We are think­ing about build­ing a wall as a so­lar wall, so it cre­ates en­ergy and pays for it­self.” The pres­i­dent couldn’t re­sist giv­ing him­self a pat on the back. “Pretty good imag­i­na­tion, right? My idea!”

Well, not ex­actly. Two weeks ear­lier, such an idea came from Glea­son Part­ners LLC, a Las Ve­gas ar­chi­tec­tural firm that’s among the hun­dreds of com­pa­nies that have ex­pressed in­ter­est in con­tract­ing the de­sign and/or con­struc­tion of the bor­der wall. The De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity is ex­pected to choose the fi­nal­ists in the bid­ding com­pe­ti­tion soon, and Mr. Trump’s re­marks could tilt the ap­proval to­ward a pro­posal with some kind of so­lar power.

Port­land, Ore.-based El­e­men­tal En­ergy es­ti­mates that a thou­sand miles of bor­der wall fit­ted with 10-foot-high so­lar pan­els would gen­er­ate 2,657.2 gi­gawatt-hours of elec­tric­ity an­nu­ally, worth $106 mil­lion a year. El­e­men­tal En­ergy co-owner John Grieser ear­lier this month told Busi­nessIn­ that’s enough juice to power 220,000 av­er­age-sized homes for a year.

Other clean-en­ergy ad­vo­cates and in­fras­truc­ture­fi­nance spe­cial­ists say a so­lar-pow­ered wall could gen­er­ate three to four times that much elec­tric­ity. Glea­son Part­ners says its so­lar-pan­eled wall could pro­duce 2.0 megawatts of elec­tric­ity per hour. Such a bor­der wall would cost $6 mil­lion per mile to build and es­ti­mates it “will pay for it­self in 20 years” by sell­ing the elec­tric­ity it would gen­er­ate.

“And this way, Mex­ico will have to pay much less money,” Mr. Trump told his Iowa au­di­ence with a wink and a nod to his cam­paign pledge to make Mex­ico pay the wall. “And that’s good, right?”

Not bad, any­way. But many of the pas­sion­ate ad­vo­cates of “green” en­ergy who cham­pion so­lar power at every turn — even af­ter the fail­ure of Solyn­dra and other Obama-era so­lar-en­ergy boon­dog­gles — are sud­denly skep­tics and crit­ics of a wall out­fit­ted with so­lar pan­els. They raise con­cerns about the “in­ef­fi­ciency” of so­lar pan­els in a fixed po­si­tion, rather than hav­ing them ro­tate to track the sun’s move­ment in the sky. They ques­tion whether there’s a suf­fi­cient mar­ket for the elec­tric­ity, since rel­a­tively few Amer­i­cans live on the bor­der.

Whether the so­lar-panel pro­posal proves vi­able or not, it’s a wel­come, out­side-the-box al­ter­na­tive to the stale think­ing Wash­ing­ton typ­i­cally brings to prob­lem­solv­ing. That’s one dis­tinct ad­van­tage of hav­ing a builder and busi­ness­man in the Oval Of­fice. If the wall can pay for it­self, so much the bet­ter. If not, any in­vest­ment in the na­tion’s health and se­cu­rity is al­ways a good one.

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