A shaky investment

A shaky investment

April 25th, 2012 in Opinion Free Press

It's bad news for local taxpayers and U.S. taxpayers as a whole that the Chattanooga City Council didn't heed the advice of Councilwoman Deborah Scott and reject a plan to install a vegetation-covered roof atop the council building.

In case you missed it, Scott was the lone member of the council who voted against the $341,000 roof, which includes a $27,000 design cost.

The hope is that the "green" roof will let the city trim a minimum $4,000 per year from its power bills.

Well, $4,000 is $4,000, and any serious cost-saving measure in government deserves a fair hearing.

But the overall savings are at least questionable.

A traditional roof would cost roughly $80,000 -- less than one-fourth of what the plant-covered roof will cost taxpayers.

Even with a traditional roof having to be replaced more often than the green roof, it will take a long time for reduced power bills to recoup the upfront higher costs -- assuming the energy savings are as robust as projected.

And even then the wisdom of installing the green roof seems shaky. That's because the big front-end spending is money that won't be available for the city's use on other, potentially more productive projects.

Neither can any logical refuge be taken in the fact, mentioned by Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd, that the green roof is eligible for some federal funding.

That only shifts part of the burden for the costly roof onto all U.S. taxpayers, rather than leaving it entirely on local taxpayers. There's nothing constitutional about forcing taxpayers in Gary, Ind., or Bozeman, Mont., or Plainview, Texas, to underwrite the cost of a plant-covered roof on a city building in Chattanooga. And if we are "benefiting" from the unconstitutional use of federal tax dollars taken from Americans elsewhere, we may rest assured that they are similarly misusing Chattanoogans' tax dollars on their own local projects. That's robbing Peter to pay Paul -- and then robbing Paul in turn.

These sorts of green initiatives are fashionable nowadays. And the federal government -- despite endless failures of Washington-backed green projects, such as Solyndra, that received massive tax funding -- never tires of increasing the national debt by pumping money into such things.

But real market demand doesn't seem to be following government's green priorities.

Dave Crockett, director of the city's Office of Sustainability, said he wants this roof project to be "a laboratory for all buildings downtown."

But there are already green roofs of this sort elsewhere, which owners of Chattanooga's downtown buildings can consider when deciding what sort of roof to install. If there are real savings to be had from these roofs, based on their true, unsubsidized costs, the private sector naturally will gravitate to them to improve the bottom line.

In the meantime, the federal government and local governments should acknowledge that costs for trendy green projects -- or anything else -- don't disappear simply by being shuffled around.