The Breakdown | Explaining Southern California's economy

Does the Solyndra bankruptcy mean that green energy isn't the solution to our problems?

That sucking sound you just heard was a half billion in federal loan guarantees and $1 billion in investment capital going down the tubes. Solyndra, a California solar startup, just declared bankruptcy, adding 1,100 workers to the state's already swollen unemployment rolls. 

At Forbes, Todd Woody summarizes the key business issue:

Can U.S. companies developing advanced solar technology compete against low-cost Chinese manufacturers who benefit from state support and a government policy to create markets at home and abroad for their products?

Probably not. In fact, Solyndra's bankruptcy proves that you can have an innovative product (thin solar panels), major venture funding, and government support — and still not make a go of it. Of course, solar isn't everything. Gov. Brown has put forward a renewable-energy plan that's supposedly capable of creating 500,000 jobs, and that plan encompasses a range of non-fossil-fuel sources. 

But as the Mercury News reported in July, solar is a big part of Brown's plan -- probably the biggest part. And why not? What we have in California, particularly Southern California, is abundant sunshine. What we develop would be good for our own energy needs, as well as other potential domestic and export markets.

We also have, in LA County, 12.4 percent unemployment. It would be great if we could tackle this in an environmentally forward-looking manner. But I've already blogged about how green energy, while growing, isn't attracting the truly big money it needs to displace traditional energy

So we may need to start considering other options -- ones that could be more bluntly effective in lowering unemployment. I'm starting to think that infrastructure could be a solution, a silver bullet for SoCal. We need to build and rebuild, and unlike during the late 2000s boom, we aren't going to be able to build houses. But our unemployed construction workers could certainly build roads and bridges. I'll be the first to admit that this isn't going to do much to fight global warming or enable California to provide global green energy leadership. But it could get us out from under the crushing burden of joblessness.

Photo: Solyndra