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City's solar power plan raises eyebrows at panel meeting

June 10, 2009

Wauwatosa staff has recommended spending energy efficiency grant dollars to put solar panels on the Public Works Building roof, an expenditure that would reduce energy bills and serve as a visual reminder to residents that the city is trying to go green.

The Budget and Finance Committee on Tuesday took up a proposed spending plan for the $220,000 in grant funds that will be coming to the city by way of the federal economic stimulus package. Several committee members questioned whether a photovoltaic roof was the best way to use $190,000 of the funds, especially when they heard the payback would be $3,000 per year.

If the city installed the solar panels, the roof would convert the sun's power into electricity, which We Energies would buy for about $3,000 per year, City Administrator James Archambo explained. The energy corporation gets "green credits" from the government for using alternative power sources.

"That's a terrible investment no matter where the money is coming from," Alderwoman Jill Organ said.

At that rate, it would take the city at least 63 years to make back the money spent on the roof, while the typical useful life of the roof is 25 years.

"We'd never see payback because it won't last that long," she said.

City staff considered a broad array of projects from more energy efficient pumps for the water department to installation of lights that require less energy consumption along State Street. Ultimately, they recommended projects that would improve energy efficiency and decrease the city's energy consumption while promoting public awareness of alternative energy sources.

The spending plan also recommends using $30,000 to design a more energy efficient layout of offices and fixtures at City Hall.

The committee decided to put the issue off until a special meeting can be held. At least one alderman wanted to look into alternative fuel sources for city vehicles, and city staff said they wanted to ensure the payback numbers they had provided were accurate.

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