As public investments go, there’s one and then there’s the other. Let’s compare this:
Minnesota soon could see at least a sevenfold expansion of solar power.
In an unprecedented ruling, a judge reviewing whether Xcel Energy should invest in new natural gas generators vs. large solar power arrays concluded Tuesday that solar is a better deal.
If the finding by Administrative Law Judge Eric Lipman is upheld by the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC), Edina-based Geronimo Energy plans to build about 20 large solar power arrays on sites across Xcel’s service area at a cost of $250 million.
“It says solar is coming in a big way to the country and to Minnesota,” Geronimo Vice President Betsy Engelking said of the ruling.
Geronimo’s Aurora Solar Project would receive no state or utility subsidies, but would qualify for a federal investment tax credit. Engleking said it is the first time in the United States that solar energy without a state subsidy has beaten natural gas in an official, head-to-head price comparison.
“The cost of solar has come down much faster than anyone had anticipated,” she said in an interview. “This is one of the reasons solar is going to explode.”
Revel has been, to put it lightly, a disaster. Originally imagined as more of a resort than a casino, Revel cost $2.4 billion to open. Even before Revel opened it was considered a high risk investment in a city already on the decline due to gambling competition from Delaware and Pennsylvania. Progressives opposed state investments in the project which came during the same time Governor Christie was cutting education and healthcare services for women. Christie invested $261 million of New Jersey tax money via credits as Morgan Stanley backed out of Revel fearing it was a loser.
Not soon after Revel opened it became clear the resort idea was as dumb as many thought it was and “Revel Atlantic City” went into bankruptcy. The bankruptcy put the State of New Jersey on the hook as Revel announced that the casino’s value had dropped from $2.4 billion to $450 million. Ouch.
So these arguments about public infrastructure and investment as economic development are all just gas baggery if actually beneficial projects aren’t part of the calculus. And even that argument aside, solar’s ascendancy seems clear. But we shouldn’t leave it to the side at all – that’s the point. Hydrocarbon energy production will begin to loses its privileged place regarding public support (and hopefully casinos as well) and the howling will be intense. But make no mistake about how we’ve been explicitly supporting senseless gambling/retail fiascos for so long. A turn toward making sense might someday actually feel like it does.