US President Barack Obama (L) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (R) tour Photovoltaic Array at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada, May 27, 2009 with Base Commander Colonel Howard Belote.

Speaking at an Air Force base near Las Vegas, President Obama pointed to a field of solar panels and boldly declared, “The first is a solar energy technologies program that will help replicate the success of the Nellis project in cities and states across America.” Obama,

visiting Nellis Air Force Base between fundraising events in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, toured the largest solar power plant of its kind in the Western Hemisphere, a collection of more than 72,000 panels built on 140 acres, including part of an old landfill. The plant, a public-private venture that cost $100 million, generates about a quarter of the electricity used on the base, where 12,000 people live and work.

The president said the project created 200 jobs and will save the Air Force nearly $1 million a year while reducing carbon pollution by 24,000 tons a year — the equivalent of removing 4,000 cars from U.S. roads.”

Economist Russ Roberts responds: “A project that costs $100 million (though I’d guess this number probably doesn’t include the land costs) to save almost $1 million a year? There’s a name for that—a lousy investment. And creating 200 jobs? Not really. The project employed 200 people. Not the same thing.”

Also under the category of bad energy investments:

When Stephen Munday spent £20,000 ($31,857) on a wind turbine to generate electricity for his home, he was proud to be doing his bit for the environment. The turbine generated five kilowatts of electricity a day – the equivalent of boiling 300 kettles – and provided two-thirds of the family’s energy needs. It also saved them an average of £500 ($796) a year in electricity costs.”

What would’ve been a 40 year investment for Stephen Munday (slightly less than the government’s 100 year investment), is now turning into a complete boondoggle:

He got planning permission and put up the 40ft device two years ago, making sure he stuck to strict noise level limits. But neighbours still complained that the sound was annoying – and now the local council has ordered him to switch it off.

Officials declared that the sound – which Mr Munday says is ‘the same pitch as a dishwasher and quieter than birdsong’ – constituted a nuisance, and issued a Noise Abatement Order. Electrician Mr Munday, 55, and his wife Sandra, a veterinary nurse, challenged the decision by the Vale of White Horse district council in Oxfordshire. But Didcot magistrates rejected their appeal and they were left to pick up the £5,392 ($8,594) court costs as well. “

To recap: They spent $100 million to save $1 million per year at Nellis and Mr. Munday spent nearly $32,000 to save about $800 annually.

There’s a reason after years of preferential treatment wind and solar only provide a small fraction of America’s energy needs. Dollars and sense.  Regardless of how much energy renewable energy provides for the U.S., the decision should be left to the private sector and not the government.

Note to Nevada and Obama: If you want actual jobs that promote clean and affordable energy, open Yucca Mountain.