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Pioneer Editorial: Green BREC only benefit 'feel-good'

The Bemidji City Council heard a pitch Monday evening to make the Bemidji Regional Event Center a "green" example by installing more than 100 solar panels, which would provide 25 kilowatts of power.

The City Council decided to go ahead and apply for a federal grant for the $270,000-plus project.

It's nice to lead the way to be green, but at what cost?

Councilors were told that the conversion will never save money. In fact, it's an investment that would decade decades to pay off let alone see a return.

The City Council gave the go-ahead to apply for the $100,000 federal stimulus grant, but would be left with $170,000 to pay. The council in applying for the grant isn't yet obligated to the project, which is good, because as it is city taxpayers could be left holding a $170,000 green bag.

Granted, the City Council, if successful in gaining the federal grant, would try for other grants to lower the city's $170,000 portion as much as possible. But there is no guarantee. As it is, city taxpayers would be on the hook for $170,000.

They would be no payback, because the electricity generated would be bought by Otter Tail Power Co. at a rate of 7 cents per kilowatt hour. But the BREC would be producing solar electricity at $1 over 10 years. That would be 50 cents a kilowatt hour over 20 years. You can quickly see that this proposition won't be saving any electric costs -- unless Otter Tail jacks up its price eight- or nine-fold.

Having the city provide a "green" example is admirable. But with a finicky public already concerned how the city is going to pay for operations and maintenance of the BREC without running up s huge property tax bill, why throw another $170,000 in their faces and add fuel to the fire.

Besides, the BREC is nearly done. Where were all these conservation and green ideas when the facility was being designed?

If the City Council can't find grants to take care of the whole project, then it should be dumped before it obligates spending taxpayers' green.