Proposed barrier would generate electricity through solar power and allow a high-speed train to operate inside.
KELLY HUMPHREY @KellyHnwfdn
During the 2016 presidential campaign, President Donald Trump promised to build a wall along the Mexican border and make Mexico pay for it.
WCC Services, a company with a local connection, thinks it has a better idea: Build a wall that will pay for itself.
Chris Rohe, the company’s project manager, has been a Destin resident on and off for seven years. A graduate of the Air Force Academy, Roche is a member of the Air Force Reserve and is stationed at Eglin Air Force Base.
WCC is one of more than 400 companies from around the country that responded to the Department of Homeland Security’s recent request for proposals for a design for a barrier wall. The company’s plan is for a photovoltaic Secure Smart Solar Structure, or S4, that would run the length of the United States’ 2,000-mile border with Mexico.
Simply put, the structure would be built using projectile-resistant solar panels that could generate electricity for much of the southwestern United States and parts of Mexico.
“The sale of that power will directly offset development and construction costs, and will be an ongoing source of revenue for the life of the structure,” said Jim Ball, a Destin resident who works in marketing for WCC, which is headquartered in Winter Park.
Rohe believes his company’s concept is unique.
“What we’re building is a structure, not a wall,” Rohe said. “The request for proposals indicated that the barrier should be ‘aesthetically pleasing,’ so what we’re building is a gateway and an edifice that both countries can be proud of. We’ve even talked about building cultural centers at different points along the structure that could serve as a type of history museum.”
Under WCC’s proposal, the S4 will contain networked sensors to detect motion on the ground, below the ground and in the air. It will use existing technology, including multispectral imaging, ground penetrating radar and motion detectors that are made in America and can be monitored around the clock
The S4 will be built on a lattice framework made with American steel anchored on concrete pilings and slab. About 15 million American-made solar panels will cover the upper portion of the barrier.
The panels will generate electricity that will be linked to the national power grid. As an added bonus, the panels will be tied to lithium-ion storage batteries that will provide power for the structure’s sensors and communication systems in case of a natural disaster or attack.
“This framework is modular, simple to manufacture, easy to transport, and can accommodate any difficult terrain challenges,” Ball said. “S4 will be an impenetrable barrier.”
WCC has even included a design option that would allow a high-speed rail system to operate inside the structure.
“It would be a natural corridor hub that would run the length of the border,” Ball said.
Rohe estimates the construction and operation of the S4 barrier would generate up to 10,000 temporary and long-term jobs. If completed, he said it would be the largest solar power system in the world.
WCC has partnered with Morali Architects and Renewable Energy Development (R.E.D.) to design the structure, and has developed partnerships with several large companies to construct it if WCC is awarded the contract.
“The beauty of the S4 concept is that it is self-sustaining and provides a solution to multiple issues,” Rohe said. “Our theory is that if you’re going to build something like this, let’s do it right. Let’s not just put up an antiquated concrete barrier that will crumble over the years.”
Bidding for the wall’s design ended Tuesday. U.S. officials have said four to 10 bidders are expected to be chosen to build prototypes. They will be constructed on a roughly quarter-mile strip of federal land in San Diego within 120 feet of the border, although a final decision has not been made on the precise spot. The government anticipates spending $200,000 to $500,000 on each prototype.