Border wall should include photovoltaic component

Opinion section
Valley News - Opinion

One element which has been missing in the debate about the border wall but should be included is a photovoltaic energy system on top of the wall.

The model for this system should be another famous border wall that I have personally visited and that I featured in a 2009 Fallbrook/Bonsall Village News travel story. Hoover Dam is on the border between Nevada and Arizona. Its purpose is not to keep people out but to keep Colorado River water in Lake Mead. The Mexican government’s opposition to the Hoover Dam along with downstream dams is because it keeps the Colorado River water in the United States rather than allowing it to flow to Mexico. As was the case with the immigration situation which has led to the international border wall, the controversy regarding Hoover Dam involved where what gets across to the other side should go as California, Nevada, and Arizona battled for the Lower Colorado River Basin water.

What is now called Hoover Dam was authorized under former President Calvin Coolidge, began construction under former President Herbert Hoover and completed under former President Franklin Roosevelt. The federal government project was approved in an era of fiscal libertarianism. After the beginning of the Great Depression, the dam project provided jobs to thousands of workers. The international border wall has that same capability of job creation Hoover Dam did.

Nevada had not legalized gambling when Hoover Dam was authorized, and Las Vegas was primarily a railroad spur. Logistics required the building of a railroad line to transport material from Las Vegas to Boulder City. The Hoover Dam workers often spent weekends in Las Vegas, contributing to that city’s economy.

Although the federal expenditure provided economic benefits, the funding for Hoover Dam was covered in later years. The infrastructure included a hydroelectric system which provided energy to customers. Fifteen government entities or public utilities signed long-term contracts for hydroelectric energy from Hoover Dam. The contracts were renewed both under the Reagan administration and the Obama administration.

The hydroelectric generation began in 1937. That was before the energy crisis of the 1970s, the environmental movement of the 1970s, and even the World War II energy rationing of the 1940s. The hydroelectric system was the product not of a desire for clean energy or for renewable energy but of a desire to recapture some of the cost to build and operate Hoover Dam. The initial 15 contract customers – that number has since tripled – relished the opportunity to purchase energy at a relatively low cost. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation benefited economically and the purchasing agencies and their customers or citizens benefited economically.

The United States could pay for the international border wall by installing a photovoltaic electricity system on top of the wall. The abundance of sunlight along the border wall route would allow for the generation of photovoltaic energy which could be sold to various customers. That would reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but more importantly it would provide a source of revenue to fund the building, maintenance and monitoring of the international border wall.

What worked for Hoover Dam should work for the international border wall. The next debate about the international border wall should be from photovoltaic system providers submitting bid packages to build a solar energy component on top of the wall.

Joe Naiman can be reached by email at