VA bungles solar projects

8-3 Page 4A.inddBy harvesting the sun’s rays and converting them into electricity, solar panels can mean big savings on electrical costs. To get those savings, however, the solar projects have to actually be completed. The Office of Inspector General for the Department of Veterans Affairs investigated 11 solar projects undertaken by the VA and rated them on the end result.

These projects had been awarded between 2010 and 2013. Between 2010 and 2015, the VA spent $408 million. By March of 2016, only two of the 11 projects were up and running.

Solar projects are designed to be completed in less than 372 days. The projects the VAOIG inspected (at least the ones that were finished) had an average completion time of 1,269 days.

In Arkansas, an $8 million solar panel project had been created in the parking lot. It was never activated because it had to be dismantled when a new parking garage was built. The finish date was to be May 2013, and cost overruns are already at $1.5 million.

In California, a company was awarded a $22.5 million solar project in 2011, with an expected finish date of 2012. The state’s historic preservation office got involved and required modifications to the plan, something nobody apparently considered. The solar array started producing electricity in 2015.

In Florida, a project was delayed for almost five years because no one realized that the roof of the parking garage would need to be raised to accommodate buses.

And so on, through another half dozen projects. In one, the connection point wasn’t indicated on the plans. Another has been delayed 28 months so far, with one problem being welds versus bolts.

The VAOIG issued four suggestions for future improvement. The interim assistant secretary for management disagreed with two of them, including doing a lessons-learned analysis.

(c) 2016 King Features Synd., Inc.