The Problem With Trump’s Proposal For A Border Wall With Solar Panels

Can making the border wall beautiful outweigh its true cost?

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Solar_panels_(6836811485).jpg

Credit: Oregon Department of Transportation

Trump recently pitched to the Republican House that his wall separating the United States and Mexico will feature solar panels. What he called “beautiful structures” is proposed to be a 40-50 foot high wall covered by thousands of solar panels.

This comes as a welcome, however somewhat convoluted gesture, given our heads are still spinning from the White House withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. Paradoxically, Trump has not only denied climate change, but he routinely criticizes renewable energy as “uneconomical”. What’s more, not everyone is sold on the border wall or the dark intolerance it has been interpreted to represent.

Still, Trump seems to be more than enthusiastic about the notion. Axios reported,

“The President said that most walls you hear about are 14 feet or 15 feet tall but this would be nothing like those walls. Trump told the lawmakers they could talk about the solar-paneled wall as long as they said it was his idea”.

A brief exploration reveals the idea might actually have come from one of the design proposals solicited by U.S. Customs and Border Protection back in March. The group that proposed the solar wall, Gleason Partners LLC, comes from Las Vegas where renewable energy has recently taken over, along with high taxes for solar users.

“Rendering provided by Gleason Partners LLC shows shows sections South Side (Mexico) connected like a snake along the border.” Credit: Gleason Partners LLC

According to Gleason’s proposal, the wall would pay for itself. “The panels would provide electricity for lighting, sensors and patrol stations along the wall. Sales of electricity to utilities could cover the cost of construction in 20 years or less, according to the company. Power could also be sold to Mexico.”

However, Gordon Johnson, a controversial analyst at New York-based Axiom Capital Management, has pointed out the idea is unrealistic financially and logistically. First of all, solar panels aren’t built to last forever. Adjusted for inflation, taxpayers’ high cost for the wall would not be outweighed by the $221m dollars it would generate in profit annually.

As Johnson calculates,

“A 40-foot-high wall more than 1,300 miles long would have an area of 279 million square feet”. He went on to predict “Factoring in equipment and development costs, the solar project would add an additional $7.6 billion to Trump’s $20 billion border wall.”

Well, it’s not the worst news we’ve ever gotten from Trump. As Jenny Chase at Bloomberg New Energy Finance said in an email, “If you are going to build a wall anyway, the idea of putting solar panels on it is not stupid…The idea that a few solar panels will pay for the wall is stupid.”

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