in Houston, Texas
Documents show Circuit of the Americas wants $566K solar panel handout
Tuesday, Aug 21, 2012, 11:59AM CST
By Mark Lisheron

We can’t be sure what is more surprising: that it took so long for Circuit of the Americas to ask for a half a million dollar Austin Energy solar power handout or that the public was able to find out about it.

Credit the Austin American-Statesman again for going after documents attesting to the request by the operators of a new Formula One racetrack in Travis County for no more than $566,200 over the next decade for a solar array.

The Statesman has tracked an agreement with the state for as much as $250 million in taxpayer funds to be returned to Circuit of the Americas for meeting certain sales tax goals in its first decade of operation.

Local government has offered up taxpayers as partners in two road expansions needed by the track. There may be other partnerships the public isn’t aware of because Circuit of the Americas would rather you didn’t know so much about their internal business affairs.

In exchange, the company has generously offered to pay some, but not all, of the expense to send Austin city officials on a Formula One fact-finding junket to England.

Showing a deep environmental commitment, Circuit of the Americas has a plan for a series of solar panels that could produce 330,000 kilowatt hours, the equivalent of power use for 28 average homes per year or 40 percent of the power needed for the track site -- when it isn’t in use.

It is a commitment forged by years of sending two dozen cars with engines getting five miles to the gallon for 190 miles around tracks all over the world.

Why else would a racing company have its own sustainability director?

Whether or not the company fulfills its grand commitment depends on the incentive, courtesy of Austin Energy rate payers, paid in advance, Edgar Farrera, the sustainability director, says.

As it did during the time of the Great Stimulus Giveaway of 2009, solar energy proved time and again its value as a taxpayer investment, with projects often paying for themselves in less than 75 years.

Austin Energy has entertained asking its rate payers to subsidize a $700-$800 million project to put solar panels on every major building in Austin.

What is another $566,200 in the name of sustainability?

Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of solar panels by flickr user Photo Mojo Mike, used via a Creative Commons license.

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