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Trump talks about building a solar southern wall

Trump rally

Since President Trump first promised to build a wall on the southern border, one of several sticking points has been who would foot the bill. But on Wednesday, the president said he may have found a way to lower the cost: solar panels.

"Think of it—the higher it goes, the more valuable it is," the president said. "It's pretty good imagination right? My idea."

At a campaign-style rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a state with a Republican governor investing heavily in alternative energy, the president pitched his green energy idea to an enthusiastic supporters.

"We're thinking of something that's unique. We're talking about the southern border. Lots of sun. Lots of heat. We're thinking about building the wall as a solar wall," he said.  

The president said the solar wall would generate enough energy over time to "pay for itself." To help cover the Homeland Security Department's estimated cost of $21 billion, photo-voltaic cells could bring the cost down. 

"You're the first group I told that to," the president chimed. "We're working it out. Let's see." 

"Build that wall" chants echoed throughout the Iowa rally as the president promised to keep his famous campaign pledge to build the wall, which he said "we've already started planning." The president asked his supporters what they thought about the solar idea.  But his comment about letting Mexico off the hook was not welcomed by the audience.  

"This way, Mexico will have to pay much less money and that's good. Right?" he asked. In response, boos and hisses could be heard from the crowd.

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Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto has repeatedly refused to pay for the wall, and the president's comments may have sounded like a pivot on the wall's financing. Still, the idea of attaching solar panels is not entirely new. 

In April, when Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly testified before Congress about the wall, he mentioned solar panels.

Despite Mr. Trump's claim that the solar wall was his idea, sketches and blueprints of a solar wall have circulated online in recent months. One of the original plans is from Las Vegas construction company Gleason Partners, which submitted a design earlier this year to the federal government along with around some 20 other companies.

The company's prototype design can be seen below. Managing partner Thomas Gleason said the design for each piece of solar wall is 20-feet-long and 9-feet-high. 

This image is a prototype of a solar wall sent to CBS News by construction company Gleason Partners. It depicts the side of the wall that would potentially face Mexico.  Gleason Partners, LLC
This prototype design of Gleason Partner's solar wall depicts the back side of the structure facing the United States.  Gleason Partners, LLC

In early May, DHS said the department's planning was underway, with the first phase of design-build procedures. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection said bidding contractors would be identified in June, and selected companies would construct their prototypes near the border in San Diego County this summer.

Democrats remain staunchly opposed to the president's call for a wall, and some Republicans have expressed their skepticism. In a spending package passed by Congress and signed by Mr. Trump in May, $1.5 billion was allocated for border funding, but that funding can only be used to replace existing fencing and barriers. It cannot be used for a concrete wall along the border.

According to Bloomberg, solar panel costs continue to drop, and by 2025, they will be less expensive than coal, a fuel the president has staunchly supported during his campaign and throughout the early days of his administration. However, costs of transmission and battery storage for solar remain expensive, and the technology is still evolving, relative to the production of panels.    

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