Letter: Power of Perverse Incentives
To the Editor:
Kudos to the Thetford Selectboard for hatching a scheme that will save its town $240,000 in energy savings and incremental revenue (“Thetford Weighs Solar Energy Plan,” Oct. 18.) Before we all jump on this bandwagon as “a model that can be replicated across the state” as its proponents proclaim, let us first consider the sustainability of its financial model. First, it requires that a private investor will back the project, aided by the incentive of federal tax credits. Second, it presumes the builder/operator of the array will receive incentives for selling excess electricity to Green Mountain Power, which is required by law to buy it at a higher-than-market rate.
Without such subsidies, there would not be enough return on investment to justify this approach over less expensive sources of energy. If the concern is environmental and not financial, keep in mind that the mining and disposal of materials in solar panels and their related batteries is as harmful as burning hydrocarbons, especially clean natural gas.
In reality, those of us who live in other towns will be subsidizing Thetford residents, as federal taxpayers and as Green Mountain Power customers. I personally would rather have my money go to my own town, which arguably has a greater need, than to go out in higher taxes and electricity bills. Or all towns can adopt the Thetford model, and by taking from each other, we will magically come out with a net gain. Abracadabra.
Seriously, this is not a criticism of those in Thetford; they are merely responding rationally to benefit their residents under a perverse set of incentives. Instead we should question the special interests and the legislative crony capitalism that, under the guise of progressive good intentions, enrich a financial elite and empower a political elite who enable such folly.