Wednesday, May 6, 2009

DO THE MATH—"Green" gone wrong

Give me a break. The end justifies the means? I don't think so.

Image via: Wakeland Housing & Development CorporationLos Vecinos, the first LEED-Certified Platinum, 100% solar-powered affordable housing in San Diego, offer 42-units of state of the art in green housing. The $17.6 million USD project opened its doors today to visitors to welcome the new neighbors, who are already living in the building, to the neighborhood....full article HERE

I have spent the last hour searching the internet for information about the recently completed low-income housing complex known as Los Vecinos in San Diego, California. There are a number of articles out there ALL touting the grand glories and fabulous accomplishments of this 100% solar powered housing project—a project that cost over $400,000 per apartment to build.

Whoopee and Wow. Does that do anything for you? It certainly does nothing for me.

This is a fine example of Green gone wrong—exactly opposite of the example in my last post.

Do the math—Come on...this isn't green. It cost over 17.6 million dollars to build 42 apartments. The developers are laughing all the way to the bank—riding the green revolution.

We have become easy prey for developers AND the green industry because we all have latched onto the saying, the end justifies the means. We believe in the end so strongly that we are willing to overlook just about everything that's wrong with going green these days—all so we can feel good about ourselves.

Well, if no one else is willing to say it, I will. Projects like this one are just plain STUPID. $400,000 for a low-income apartment? Rents to justify that kind of cost would normally run at least $3,000 per month. (No, the renters won't be paying that much but we always seem to forget that someone, meaning YOU, has to make up the difference—It does have to be paid.)

But look at the energy savings you say. Low utility bills!

Whoopee. You forget about the cost of the energy it took to build a place like this. 17.6 million dollars worth of energy. Someone, somewhere, had to expend that amount of energy in order to pay for the labor and materials to build this mega-ripoff. No one seems to remember that building materials such as lumber, steel, sheet rock, nails, solar panels, batteries, water heaters, insulation, roof coatings, etc. all take energy to manufacture, not to mention that many harm the environment in the process.

DO THE MATH—This could have been built for 1/4 the cost (and therefore 1/4 the energy). A better design incorporating passive solar would have made some sense and cost little more in dollars than a normal apartment building. Come on, face the damn thing south, put in some extra windows and a bigger overhang and voila!—you've got the best, most cost-efficient, green building you're going to get for the money.

Someone is footing the bill for an extra 10 to 12 million dollars worth of what...? Some solar panels, on-demand water heaters and dual-flush toilets?

How long will it take in years to recoup the costs? Try never—never, never, never, ever. The cost savings won't even make a dent. They never do.

WAKE UP out there green community. You're being taken to the cleaners. The cost of going green is costing way more than doing nothing.

DO THE MATH—Yes, you can put up a $45,000 solar electric system on your house. You may even get a tax credit and/or other government assistance to make it only cost you $25,000. Then, using some far fetched statistics they tell you, "It will only take 7 years to pay for itself!" Well maybe you have electric bills that average $350 to $400 per month—I don't know anyone who does, but maybe you do. (Ours average about $80 per month, including electric heat—and our only solar is passive solar.)

That's how they "sell" it to you. But no one thinks about the cost of replacing the batteries every few years—and that cost is HUGE. And they don't tell you about how toxic the batteries are, both to you in your home and to the environment when disposed of.

And how easily we forget that the tax breaks and grants we may get to help defray costs have to come from somebody, somewhere. It might not cost YOU, in that moment, but it does cost US—all of us. So that $25,000 system really DOES cost $45,000. It's not looking so good anymore is it?

YOU WILL NEVER PAY OFF A PHOTO VOLTAIC SYSTEM WITH THE COST SAVINGS AND YOU ARE NOT HELPING THE ENVIRONMENT OR THE EARTH BY TRYING—Not that way anyway. The costs in terms of dollars AND harm to the environment in the manufacturing and disposal processes are just too high.

SO WAKE UP OUT THERE! Do the things that matter the most for the least. Use passive solar, thermal mass, and insulation to go green. Use concrete floors; earthen, stone, or insulated walls (insulated with inexpensive recycled materials); overhangs with south-facing windows and cut back on your own energy consumption. These are just some of the many ways you can contribute to going green without contributing to the problem.

Stay away from all that expensive stuff being shoved down your throat while wearing the cloak of "green." Why does it cost SO MUCH in the first place? I'll save that subject for another rant.

And water catchment systems? Don't get me started...


Monica said...

Excellent post! You're right. Going green should not cost an arm and a leg. My grandparents' generation lived WAY greener than we do. Why? Because they bought less, consumed less, and owned less. Of course, it's human nature to want more and I think we need to re-train ourselves to not WANT things all the time. That's half the battle right there. I do believe that the best way to go green is to REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE as much as possible.

Anonymous said...

The means must always be in tune with the end!!! Right-on Mike!!!

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