By Victoria Leca
“The principle of good management says you should define success in terms that can be measured” said A. Barton Hinkle in a recent article. “Pride and stature can’t be.” However, this is exactly how Gresham City Hall would like to measure success. After spending $500,000 of taxpayers’ money on a solar panel project, which includes a set of panels installed over a parking roof and two solar trees installed in the building’s plaza, Gresham City Hall is trying to sell the project as an inspiration to the rest of us, who have not yet invested in wind or solar energy.
The purpose of this project was not to make City Hall more energy efficient – seeing that only 15% of its energy needs are met through it. It was supposed to be a “public expression of Gresham’s larger commitment to renewable energy and environmental investments,” as the developer Craig Merrigan put it. However, Gresham, or the Portland area in general, is keen on using taxpayer money to fund projects that never would have been funded through private sources. The money the city got from the Department of Energy comes from ARRA stimulus funds, meaning that not only local taxpayers contributed to it, but U.S. taxpayers in general did. For them, this project doesn’t provide any kind of benefit, not even inspiration.
In addition to the federal funds, the Energy Trust of Oregon also provided a grant of $124,000. The Energy Trust is a nonprofit organization that gives incentives to individuals and corporations that want to become more energy efficient. The project was extremely expensive, and the percentage of energy it provides to the City Hall is not worth the price. “Sustainable” should mean economically sustainable as well. However, this project is neither economically nor ecologically sustainable.
Victoria Leca is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market think tank.