Trump floats plan to pay for border wall with sun panels

Source: George Cahlink, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, June 7, 2017

President Trump may be going green to generate the greenbacks for building his much-ballyhooed border wall with Mexico.

Trump pitched Republican congressional leaders on a proposal to put solar panels on the proposed wall yesterday, a source familiar with the White House meeting on legislative priorities confirmed to E&E News.

Trump suggested solar power would be an option for covering the expected multibillion-dollar cost of the border wall. Trump has long insisted Mexico pay for the barrier, which is aimed at curbing illegal immigration into the United States.

The solar idea was among hundreds of design submissions for building the wall made by multiple firms earlier this year.

More than 200 proposals were submitted to Customs and Border Protection this spring for building the barrier with finalists due to be announced this month to build prototypes. Other proposed ideas included: wire or mesh walls, zigzagging wall panels and even adorning the wall with artwork.

Tom Gleason — the founder of Gleason Partners LLC of Las Vegas, a small constructions material supplier — submitted the plan to put panels on the wall to provide electricity for the wall’s sensors, lighting and patrol stations. Additionally, the plan calls for selling power to local utilities in both the U.S. and Mexico.

“The wall pays for itself,” said Gleason, who said it would cost about $7.5 million per mile to build the wall, though the cost would be offset by its solar panels generating 2 megawatts of energy per hour. He said the power could be especially helpful to farmers in rural Texas and Mexico.

Gleason estimates the wall would require 28 million panels in total, or just over 14,000 per mile, and stand at about 30 feet. He said the base would be a combination of mesh and concrete and would be outfitted with fixed solar panels and rotating solar arrays at the top.

According to Gleason, private investors have told him they would be willing to foot the cost of building the wall in exchange for the rights to sell its energy. He said those investors were working to get in touch with Trump administration officials to detail their willingness to “pay for the wall.”

Gleason said the current U.S. solar market does not have the capacity to manufacture all those panels and would likely need to rely on solar panel builders in South Korea and Japan. He said his 16-person, 4-year-old firm with employees in the U.S., China and Serbia would be involved with the design and supply some materials but would not build the wall itself.

Gleason said he was “glad” Trump mentioned his idea, although he has yet to hear if he’s a finalist. He said being affiliated with the high-profile wall would help him to promote the company’s solar windows and other renewable building materials.

Critics of Trump are likely to note that his support for renewable energy comes only days after he pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord. Additionally, his fiscal 2018 budget proposal would slash federal spending on renewables in favor of more traditional energy sources.