Trump's Solar-Powered Border Wall Is More Than a Troll


On Tuesday afternoon, President Donald Trump shared a new idea with congressional Republicans:

His vision was a [U.S.-Mexico border] wall 40 feet to 50 feet high and covered with solar panels so they’d be “beautiful structures,” the people said. The president said that most walls you hear about are 14 feet or 15 feet tall but this would be nothing like those walls. Trump told the lawmakers they could talk about the solar-paneled wall as long as they said it was his idea.

“One person cautioned that the President wasn’t presenting the solar-paneled wall as the definite solution,” adds Jonathan Swan, the Axios reporter who first reported most of the news.

Despite the president’s insistence on getting credit, this is not the first time someone has suggested swaddling the wall in solar panels. During the government’s call for proposals in April, a small, Las Vegas-based construction-supply firm named Gleason Partners suggested a suspiciously similar plan. It proposed building a wall of cement, steel, and solar panels. Each mile of wall would cost $7.5 million, it said, but each mile would also generate two megawatts of electricity. This power could then be sold to utilities on both sides of the border.

Never mind Mexico—now the sun would pay for the wall. (Or as Tom Gleason, the firm’s founder, told E&E News: “The wall pays for itself.”)

Gleason’s proposal even included a mockup, which hints at how his firm would solve a tricky engineering problem. Solar panels usually go on roofs, not on walls, because the goal is to keep them out of shadow and expose their surface to as much sun as possible through the day. To get around this issue, Gleason angles two rows of panels slightly off the wall’s perpendicular.

In North America, solar panels also usually face south, toward the equator. So presumably the most expensive hardware on the wall would look toward Mexico.

From Trump, the idea seemed like a politically simplistic troll. Progressives will not magically come to support a divisive mega-project if it also subsidizes renewable firms. Environmental groups that believe the wall will hurt local ecosystems will still oppose the project even if it becomes carbon neutral. As Brett Hartl of the Center for Biodiversity said in a statement on Tuesday: “An ecological disaster with solar panels on top is still an ecological disaster. With solar panels on top.”

But it is not the first time that immigration restrictionists have borrowed environmental arguments to bolster their appeal. John Hultgren, a professor of environmental politics at Bennington College, filled a book with examples of the overlap between the two groups: the now aptly titled Border Walls Gone Green.

Some contemporary figures in immigration restrictionism began in the environmental movement. John Tanton, who founded three immigration-lobbying groups, including the Federation for American Immigration Reform, began his involvement in politics through environmental activism. He says he once lobbied the Sierra Club to adopt anti-immigration positions; when they demurred, he founded his own network of groups.

Read the entire article at