A quick fix for diffiuclt problems that can’t be easily solved goes back to Ponce De Leon and the “Fountain of Youth”. These days on cable T.V. with “infomercials”, we are led to believe a couple cans of Flex Seal” will permanently repair gutters, or the “Hovearound” wheelchair will somehow provide freedom for disabled seniors.
Such “super hero” solutions to complex problems are not only available on “as seen on T.V.”, but with some governmental programs as well. Take for instance Measure “C”, the 359 million dollar bond issue passed by the Mount Diablo Unified School District (MDUSD) in 2010. According to the voter pamplet:
Measure C: “To support quality education and safety for local students and reduce impacts of State budget cuts by improving science, ccareer, and technical educational facilities, upgrading classrooms, instructional technology, repairing leaky roofs, improving safety, maximizing enerergy efficency including adding solar panels and modern air conditioning and repairimg, replacing, equipping, or modernizing other school facilities. Shall Mt. Diablo Unified School District issue $348,000,000 of bonds at legal interest rates with indpendent citizen oversight, audits and no money for administrative salaries.”
Since passage of the bond issue, a large chunk of the avalable funds have gone into construction of solar panels into 51 facilities at an estimated cost of 63 million dollars. According to the school district, over the 30 year life expectancy of the project, MDUSD will realize a savings of approximately $200 million on utility bills that are presently between $3 to $3.5 million dollars a year. Unfortunately, this optimistic projection does not take into account:
1. Will the work done now by outdated when the life expectancy of the project is over about 2042. Or, is this another case of investing in “486 technology” that will be outdated in a few years. Talking about the 486, Intel’s co-founder Gordon Moore, once projected that in matters of technology, we can expect dramatic improvements of at least two fold every 12 months to occur in the first 10 years. Using “Moore’s Law” as a barometer, it can be questioned if the solar power project of the MDSD can be expected to fulfil its long term expectations.
2. Will the contractor, Sun Power, be around 25 years from now? It’s a stretch, to expect Sun Power to provide the promised service and warranty that was part of the price tag paid by the district. Considering the stimulous loan given to Sun Power by the United States government and its recent profit and loss statements, it would appear this company may be another Sylandra waiting to happen.
3. What is to occur to the solar installations if a school is closed during the 30 years the solar panels are estimated to operate. To think these 51 sites will remain as they are today 30 years hence is a huge “leap of faith”. When the solar project was constructed Measure “C” Oversight Committee member Alicia Minyon, questioned why Glenbrook Middle School and Holbrook Elementory had closed their doors with around $2.5 million invested in solar? What would be the savings realized on these two locations?
The economics of this solar project further defy logic. Using the formula Cost of Production ($63 million plus 4.4 million per year in projected interest), will have to be less than the energy savings and revenue received by the school district selling excess energy back to PG&E over the life of the project. The utility is committed to buy back the energy at retail prices for another five years.
What PG&E’s position might be on its current “Green friendly” policy 10, 20, or 30 years hence is anyone’s guess. When the smoke clears taxpayers in the MDUSD have placed a good portion of their capital investment in a venture that charitably can be considered “risky” at best.
For this reason, the Contra Costa Times, arguably the stalwart liberal conscience of the community, actually opposed the passage of Propstion “C” in 2010 because of the enormous costs at the backend. Anti-tax crusader Kris Hunt quipped, “It is fiscally irresponsible to generate money for annual operating costs by incurring long term debt. That is like buying a sandwich today and paying it off over 50 years.”
Not to be forgotton is the pledge made by Measure backers that none of the revenues generated by the solar panel installation would be used for “admijstrative purposes” and go directly into the class room. Former member of the Measure C Oversight Committee and present day Vice Mayor Jack Weir commented in 2011 “The reality is that the district only cares about gaining money for their general fund which is why they are going all out for solar installations.”
If the “pretzel logic” of Measure C remainds us of the largely failed stimulous program of President Obama’s first term, one should not be surprised that some of the same players were involved in the MDUSD solar project. The son of Congressman George Miller (D-Martinez) was the lobbyist who was credited for getting Sun Power a 1/2 million dollar bailout from the Federal Government when the company was in danger of running out of venture capital. Is it a coincidence so quickly after Sun Power was saved, they landed the lucrative $63 million contract for the MDSD? If this does not not fit the definition of “Crony Capitalism”, what does?
Added to the cost of installation of the solar contract and other imnprovements under Measure “C” is the stipulation that a project labor agreement be used by the MDSD. What this means is that the highest paid union labor is utilized on construction projects. This assures the tax payers who funded Proposition Cpay the maximum hourly wages to make school improvments.
To put it in a simple vinacular, “there ain’t much bang for the buck” with already bloated Measure “C” expenditures. Once again the Davis Bacon Act from 1931, originally designed to protect workers during the “Great Depression” has been hijacked to pay back organized labor for support of liberal candidates during past election cycles.
When all the facts about the MDUSD Solar Project are compiled, it will be next generations who will one day be educated in this school system that will suffer. Jack Weir said “Mt. Diablo seniors will be retired when this bond issue is paid off.” With the bleak prospect of huge back end payments due on Measure C long after the money has been spent, it is doubtful future tax payers will be willing saddle themselves with new debt next time the school district wants to float a new bond issue.
By that time, the MDUSD will probably need “Flex Seal” in 55 gallon drums to fix leaking roofs, repair class rooms and patch up crumbling sidewalks when no capital investmenst funds are available to rebuild educational facilities. Of course, by that time no one who worked on the solar project will be around so it will be up to another school board to figure things out.