Who’s doing the savings?

Today I come not to bury Caesar but to praise him. Joe Albero at Salisbury News had an interesting post about a local car wash that utilizes a number of solar panels in order to increase its energy efficiency; in this post the owner of the car wash responded to previous comments with a comment of his own.

As car wash owner Bruce Dayton claims:

I have a solar water heating system to aid in wash water heating that will pay back in less than three years, including the $2k rebate from the state.

The solar electric system is 6.3kW. This system will pay back in 10-12 years, maybe sooner if electric rates keep going up…..oops, I mean as electric rates continue to go up. The rebate from the state is $5k.

Some commentors to this post brought up the point that the payback includes tax rebates, which come from the money all the rest of us provide – and that is a valid point. I actually touched on this aspect before in a post regarding a bill in this year’s General Assembly. (By the way, an amended HB377 did pass the Senate 42-5 so my reader’s fears were at least somewhat unfounded.)

But where Joe gets it wrong is arguing that because solar panels work for Dayton’s business, they should’ve been placed on the recently-built city fire station. Truly this is an apples and oranges comparison.

With a car wash you have a building that is suited pretty well for this sort of application, because the majority of customers use the facility in the summer, a time when solar energy is plentiful because the sun’s out longer and higher in the sky. Moreover, the building isn’t occupied full-time and since there’s a portapotty in the picture I’ll deduce the car wash has no restroom facilities either. Most of the energy use is in heating water and running the washing equipment, there’s no real large need for any HVAC items.

On the other hand, a fire station is much more energy-intensive per square foot and is almost constantly occupied whether by the public or by firefighters year-round. It would be difficult for solar panels to help a whole lot on a bleak, cold January day – or imagine a string of days like we’ve had of late where the weather’s been cool and gloomy. Unfortunately, the time of most need in this case would be the time where solar panels are least effective. It would slow the payback time to a crawl and because these are OUR tax dollars we’re talking about the length of payback is extremely important.

Solar panels have their uses but I have to disagree with Joe when he says that a fire station is one of them. Besides, if solar panels were really that great would the government need to juryrig the market so they are sold and used? I hope that the “rebate” (read: subsidy) Mr. Dayton’s getting is at least resulting in lower prices for his customers.

Author: Michael

It's me from my laptop computer.