Solar array on federal building is example of trendy, wasteful effort

When I first saw it I thought “well, it’s about time we got our own spaceport.”  After all, why should Roswell or Area 51 get all the visitors? We clearly have had aliens living among us for some time — Mork, Alf, Joe Biden — so they have to be landing somewhere to spend those out-of-town space credits.

So the thing’s hideous. At least it’ll bring in some of the extra-solar trade and the really crazy aliens are probably on the way to Aspen anyway.

Then I find out that the landing pad I thought they were constructing on top of the federal building here in downtown Grand Junction was actually solar panels and part of some boondoggle, apparently to punish voters in Mesa County for allowing John McCain to win here in 2008.

I wish it were actually just some sort of architectural revenge, but it’s not that easy. The entire project that’s taking place at Fourth and Rood is to make the building a net zero energy consumer, where it produces the same energy it consumes. I’ll grant you it’s got some zeros going for it, six to be exact, since it is a $15 million project.

In case you’re wondering, that’s about $361 per square foot in that building, which still buys a pretty nice place built from scratch. But don’t worry, the money used in this project is coming from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act a.k.a. The Stimulus, which is replete with fantastically successful projects like this one.

The solar pagoda now crouching menacingly on the roof of the courthouse was originally supposed to be even bigger and actually hang out over the edge of the building itself. If you followed the sci-fi television series “V” and picture the enormous alien ships hanging over American cities, that will give you the feeling.

But, and this is a really funny part, reportedly the government was worried this might not be in keeping with the historical character of the structure, so they scaled slightly back. This is understandable because all of us know that slightly less enormous aluminum and steel exoskeletons were part of almost all turn-of-the-century federal buildings.

Put aside for the moment the concern that it might have been more economically feasible to burn cashmere sweaters to heat the building than this expense and consider what would’ve been said by many preservationists if this were some other reason to modify the structure than the politically correct one of “green” energy.

What if this tower array was even half of the size and was going to be used to track terrorists or transmit and receive signals to drone aircraft in the Middle East? I expect we would hear plenty of objections to the destruction of the building’s character and probably lawsuits would’ve been filed.

But with a few culturally trendy subjects, all of that drops away and the science of economics has saddled a horse and ridden quickly away from the argument.

The trendy and self-satisfying have now moved into architecture and heritage. Should we now picture Lincoln wearing a solar collector rather than an evil stovepipe hat? Perhaps Jefferson’s statue should gaze pensively across the Potomac in a Snuggie.

This thinking is not going to be confined to just the occasional architectural faux pas but by imperial decree er ... executive order: All new federal buildings are supposed to be net zero energy consumers by 2030. Fortunately, by then the federal government won’t have any money to build new federal buildings.

That’s partly because all of this present green energy twaddle is thinly disguised job destruction for short-term political gain. As the Manhattan Institute put it in a nutshell, “Most likely, abandoning fossil fuels in favor of less economically efficient energy sources will increase costs for producers and consumers, ultimately resulting in net job losses.”

And as I have noted before, the collateral damages are promising technologies pushed forward too soon to meet their missions while unnecessarily building resentment among displaced workers.

If this building is any guide, this version of the future is wasteful, unattractive and probably obsolete as soon as it arrives.

Rick Wagner writes more about politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.


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