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Solar savings are expensive

The idea sounds great: The Collinsville Area Recreation District plans to cut its energy costs by installing solar panels at Splash City.

But then there’s the sticker shock: $853,347 to install the panels over parking spaces. Susan Zaber, CARD’s executive director, said they’ve been told that solar power could offset as much as 48 percent of the district’s $75,000 annual utility costs. Those kinds of projections usually turn out to be wildly optimistic compared with reality. But let’s assume the full 48 percent. At that rate, it will take 23.7 years for the district to break even on this project.

No private business would green light a project with that sort of cost-benefit analysis. We doubt CARD would have either if it hadn’t been for a $417,690 grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Foundation. At least that’s from an endowment set up by Commonwealth Edison, and not tax dollars. But even at half the price, this project is still difficult to justify from a financial perspective.

Zaber said that eventually, the solar panels may produce enough energy that CARD can sell the excess. If that day ever arrives, the panels will be a great investment. But for now, this is too costly a way to save money and energy.