On the front page of the New York Times' online edition Sunday was an artist's rendering of the pride and joy of the federal General Services Administration: a renovated federal building in Portland, Ore., that features plants growing up all 18 stories of one side.
"They will bloom in the spring and summer when you want the shade, and then they will go away in the winter when you want to let the light in," Bob Peck, commissioner of public buildings for the G.S.A., told the Times, adding, "Don't ask me how you get them irrigated."
Don't ask how much they cost, either.
I told you not to ask.
OK, I'll tell you: The entire renovation costs $133 million. The plants are only one component, but the G.S.A. admits that the renovation is being undertaken for the purpose of making the building "green." Done as a project of the Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings, the renovation is Oregon's largest federal stimulus project.
The Obama administration proudly boasts that the effort will dramatically reduce the building's energy use, thereby saving federal taxpayers $280,000 a year in energy costs.
Now here comes the fun part.
Nowhere in the article did The New York Times bother to do the math. So I did. (It wasn't hard, I did it on my Blackberry while setting out for a winter hike.) To recoup its investment in this renovation, the government will have to keep the building running for the next 475 years.
Look on the bright side. Everything after year 476 is gravy!
As Joe Vaughan, a Portland commercial real estate developer, told The Times, "As a taxpayer, I think it's a horrible waste of money that no private developer would undertake."
The G.S.A response?
"The idea is that the cost savings are in the energy efficiency," Caren Auchman, a spokeswoman for the G.S.A., uselessly told the Times, which did not question the validity, or sanity, of that statement.
To provide a little perspective, the taxpayers are going to shell out $133 million -- more than half the cost of the nearby Rose Garden Arena, where the Portland Trailblazers play -- so the government can annually save the taxpayers $68,000 less than the combined yearly salaries of Oregon's two U.S. senators.
This is what passes for a good "green" investment in Washington these days.
This is only one tiny example of the type of cost-benefit analysis being promoted in Washington in the name of saving the planet.
Last week the U.S. Department of Energy released a report on wind power. To the joy of environmentalists everywhere, the department concluded that it is "technically feasible" for windmills to provide between 20 percent and 30 percent of U.S. energy by 2024.
The only hitch is that it will cost $93 billion to expand the power grid to accommodate windmills. That's only the grid expansion. It doesn't include building the windmills or making other upgrades.
The benefit? At most, only a 4.5 percent reduction in carbon emissions, which even the New York Times labeled "modest."
Another example of how math goes bad when politicians try to do calculations using green crayons: Max Schulz of the Manhattan Institute pointed out last year that estimates for the cost of Obama's green jobs initiative range between $30,000 and $100,000 per job created. That does not include the cost of jobs lost by taxing other productive sectors of the economy to transfer money to the "green" sector. A study of a similar "green jobs" initiative in Spain found that for every green job created, 2.2 other jobs were lost, Schulz reported.
Yet despite the obviously dubious benefits from spending so much money on schemes such as these, Washington continues rushing to throw money at them. Maybe it would be a good idea to start electing fewer people who wear green wristbands and lapel pins and more who wear green eyeshades.
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