As the sustainability manager for City of Bradenton, I’d like to offer a response to the letter to the editor written by Mr. Bob Milhoan on Oct. 8 entitled, “A tax folly: expensive solar panels for Bradenton City Hall.”
I sincerely appreciate Mr. Milhoan’s critique and agree wholeheartedly with his assertion that local taxpayers have just as much of a vested stake in projects that are funded under federal grants as they do with those paid for by local tax dollars.
In either case, the city has the upmost responsibility to ensure that money is spent in as efficaciously a manner as possible, one that will render the greatest overall benefit to the taxpayer.
The Energy Efficiency and Block Grant (EECBG) program that funded this project is guided upon the four principles of reducing fossil fuel emissions, reducing total energy use, improving energy efficiency, and creating and retaining jobs.
A survey of those projects completed through EECBG to date lends insight into one of prevailing notions of sustainability; that fulfillment of these principles cannot be achieved through any one means but rather depend on a balanced approach that incorporates a wide array of alternatives.
We here at the city were well aware of this concept and took a number of different projects into consideration before deciding to move forward with solar.
Ultimately it was determined that as a community in the sunshine state, solar power represents our most readily available source of clean energy, one that allows us to utilize local businesses and put members of our community to work.
However, this in and of itself is not an “end all, be all” solution.
Becoming a more sustainable government means looking for avenues to encourage energy conservative behavior in our operations, selecting more efficient equipment to be installed at city facilities, providing transportation alternatives that lessen our dependence on foreign oil, and most importantly, working hand-in-hand with other governments in the region to put sustainability at the forefront in planning for our future.
While solar presents inherent benefits, its cumulative effect is only as great as the actions of party that chooses to implement it.
In writing this I assure you that our ambition is not to merely supplement our facility’s power but to integrate this practice with reductions in overall electrical demand, creating a whole that is much greater than the sum of its parts.
In conclusion, I’d like to take a moment to clear up a couple of misconceptions that may have come up in regard to solar power systems.
Typically, residential and commercial property owners realize a very quick return on investment from solar, often in just a few short years.
A wide range of incentives are available to consumers, including rebates from local utilities and opportunities for depreciating the cost of solar from taxes via mechanisms like the U.S. Treasury’s Section 1603 Program and Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System.
As the City of Bradenton is a tax-exempt municipal government, such options were not available to us and may have unintentionally skewed the true financial benefit one can realize from solar. Furthermore, the city’s electrical rate structure is based on a different determination from that of the average constituent.
This accordingly results in an annual savings that is far less than what most would receive, and when coupled with extremely conservative estimates for output, significantly undermines the true capabilities of this system.
As with any investment, a potential owner should thoroughly consider the costs and benefits before deciding to move forward.
In our case we chose to lead the way with a durable, American-made product that is not only designed to last but will represent a major step forward in meeting our energy goals for the future.