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Ben Bierman (left) and Chris Gronet (right) explain solar technology to U.S. President Barack Obama on a tour of the Solyndra solar panel company May 26, 2010 in Fremont, California.
This Steven Mufson piece from the Washington Post is a solid summary of how the government has long supported, as the headline says, "failed energy projects." Mufson argues that the feds have done a lousy job of making industrial policy work and peppers his account with all manner of money losers, going back decades.
He also holds Energy Secretary Steven Chu's feet to the fire of some flawed historical examples of the government investing in projects that we think were big successes but actually weren't — or that didn't involve any government money at all!
However, Mufson also follows a line of reasoning that has, since the controversial bankruptcy of solar startup Solyndra, become widely echoed by critics of the Department of Energy's loan-guarantee program for green energy and transportation, as well as the Obama administration's support of it.
A Solyndra solar rooftoop installation.
In a great column titled "Here Comes the Sun," the New York Times' Paul Krugman argues that we are on the brink of a solar transformation of our energy economy. Maybe he's right. During the course of proving his point, however, he has this to say about the controversial solar startup Solyndra, which recently went bankrupt and whose funding has brought the Obama Administration under fire:
These days, mention solar power and you’ll probably hear cries of “Solyndra!” Republicans have tried to make the failed solar panel company both a symbol of government waste — although claims of a major scandal are nonsense — and a stick with which to beat renewable energy.
But Solyndra’s failure was actually caused by technological success: the price of solar panels is dropping fast, and Solyndra couldn’t keep up with the competition. In fact, progress in solar panels has been so dramatic and sustained that, as a blog post at Scientific American put it, “there’s now frequent talk of a ‘Moore’s law’ in solar energy,” with prices adjusted for inflation falling around 7 percent a year.
The Solyndragate feeding frenzy continues. There's blood in the water. The companies two top executives have taken the fifth in Congressional testimony. The Washington Post has done an expose. The New York Times has done an expose. The LA Times has done an expose after the Post and the New York Times did their exposes. Republicans are making plenty of noise about how Solyndra was somehow a corrupt undertaking designed to funnel taxpayer money to Obama supporters. It was also a stimulus boondoggle. And in California, it was a risky bet on precious few jobs.
My KPCC colleague and Pacific Swell blogger Molly Peterson and I have been talking about Solyndra for weeks. She provided a nice shout-out to several of the posts I've written on the topic at DeBord Report — and provided me with an opportunity to zero in on what's really going on with green energy funding.