That Solar Story

There’s a lot of teeth gnashing in green circles over the Solyndra fallout. Even if it wasn’t an election year, Republicans would be cynically milking the story for all it’s worth, and that spigot shows no sign of going dry anytime soon.

Are they being hypocritical? Sure. You bet they are.

But let’s at least be honest and acknowledge that this scandal has its roots in a bipartisan culture that thrives inside the beltway.

Now there are some who fault the media for getting many details of the story wrong, thus playing into the scandal narrative. And there are some who fault the media for being late to the story.

Where do you think the actual story is headed?

17 Responses to “That Solar Story”

  1. harrywr2 says:

    The real discussion should be about what is the proper role of the government shouldering various financial risks should be.
    There will be plenty of hand wringing and finger pointing if the Vogtle #3 and #4 project doesn’t go as planned as well.
    Oh Wait…congressman Markey is already hand-wringing and finger pointing –

  2. Tom Fuller says:

    Actually the real story, such as it is, can stay confined to how government supports industry in general.

    This shouldn’t be about solar at all. A lot of the workers at Solyndra were previously employed at NUMMI, a car manufacturing plant that went bust a couple of years ago. Nobody argued that cars were not viable after that.

    Those poor women and men have now been dumped on twice in a couple of year. The difference is this:

    Today at a community college in Northern California about 300 of those workers showed up at a special job fair. So did 30 solar power companies looking desperately for workers.

    What happened to Solyndra is a crying shame. They are a manufacturer that decided on a high cost approach to making solar modules. Manufacturers the world over (including here in the States) beat them on pricing hands-down. They went bust.

    They went bust in an industry sector that is growing faster than any other part of the economy–including healthcare.

    Did the Obama administration mess up? Almost certainly, unless they were lied to. Would this story have been any different had it happened in any other industry sector? Not at all. 

  3. Tom Scharf says:

    Being from small business and having gone through several “not so successful” start-ups myself, I can only say this type of flame out is par for the course, and not unexpected.  We should be investing in high risk technologies at this stage.  A good does of expectations management is needed for all involved.

    However the govt should not be in the business of picking winners and losers in private industry especially when engineering and production are involved.  They have a poor track record and nobody trusts that corruption and cronyism won’t play major roles. Core R&D at scientific academies is money better spent.

    I don’t think there is much private sector confidence in the “Green jobs” agenda, and this is an embarrassing outcome, and the political ties make it look even worse.  CEO’s taking the 5th at congressional inquiries just looks bad.

    You can bet “green jobs” has just taken a seat next to “climate change” as a toxic campaign subject for the Democrats. 

  4. Menth says:

    Well, I could spend some time typing out exactly what I think about this but it’d be easier just to quote Walter Russell Mead:

    “Let me put it this way.  A GOP candidate might feel a need to please creationist voters and say a few nice things about intelligent design.  That is politics as usual; it gins up the base and drive the opposition insane with fury and rage.  No harm, really, and no foul.
    But if that same politician then proposed to base federal health policy on a hunt for the historical Garden of Eden so that we could replace Medicare by feeding old people on fruit from the Tree of Life, he would have gone from quackery-as-usual to raving incompetence.  True, the Tree of Life approach polls well in GOP focus groups: no cuts to Medicare benefits, massive tax savings, no death panels, Biblical values on display. Its only flaw is that there won’t be any magic free fruit that lets us live forever, and sooner or later people will notice that and be unhappy.
    Green jobs are the Democratic equivalent of Tree of Life Medicare; they scratch every itch of every important segment of the base and if they actually existed they would be an excellent policy choice.  But since they are no more available to solve our jobs problem than the Tree of Life stands ready to make health care affordable, a green jobs policy boils down to a promise to feed the masses on tasty unicorn ribs from the Great Invisible Unicorn Herd that only the greens can see.”

  5. Keith Kloor says:

    “Green jobs are the Democratic equivalent of Tree of Life Medicare..they scratch every itch of every important segment of the base…”

    Really? That must be news to Democrat strategists. The GOP has been pandering to religious conservatives for a generation. The political/rhetorical idea of Green jobs is about as old as Twitter, I think. 

  6. Eric Adler says:

    Thanks for this thread. It is clear from your link that the much of the media got the details of the story totally wrong in so many ways it is beyond belief. The same  civil servants  vetted and chose Solyndra for Federal under the Bush and Obama administrations. The company looked like it had a good business plan even to private investors and the business media like the WSJ and MIT’s Technology Review. It is clear that Solyndra was done in by changes market conditions. George Kaiser did not have any personal money in Solyndra. The Kaiser Family Foundation, a non profit did. The Republican contributors, the Walton family did have personal money.
    One would expect FOX news, and the Weekly Standard to get the story wrong, but what made the major mainstream media organizations like ABC, CBS, CNN and the LA Times echo the false Republican claims without checking? It is frightening that they did that, and did not even bother to correct what they wrote. There is no way that Democracy can succeed if the people are so badly misinformed.

  7. Menth says:

    I think the comparison is hinged on the viability of the policy rather than the history of the party’s stance on it.

  8. harrywr2 says:

    Keith Kloor Says:
    September 24th, 2011 at 12:17 am
    <i>The political/rhetorical idea of Green jobs is about as old as Twitter, I think.</i>
    The ‘Civilian Conservation Corps’ was big  when FDR was president.
    I don’t think we had TV, Microwaves or Computers when FDR was president.
    It’s not a ‘new’ idea. 
    Of course stimulating the economy thru ‘Green Jobs’ didn’t work nearly as well as having a big bloody war and bombing the factories of all of our competitors.

  9. Jon P says:

    So the media got this all wrong, Bush started it and this Solyndra by all accounts was a good investment of taxpayer money. Cool and when the company executives testify to Congress with all this “new” valuable information that this was a normal, legal, and ethical loan process we can all put this behind us. Oh wait the Solyndra executives have chnaged their minds and will “take the 5th” is no one curious about that? I mean Media lol Matters has proven that this is a non-scandal or one equally shared by both parties.

  10. Eric Adler says:

    Tom Scharf, @3
    You seem to be against having the Federal Government promote certain industries and label it picking winners.
    In fact the Federal government has helped strategic industries in the past going  beyond providing basic research. It provided rights of way to Railroad Companies and financed surveys which made found the best routes.
    It did the same for highways which stimulated the growth of the auto industry.
    There is no doubt that solar energy systems are a strategic industry. China and Germany are stimulating the growth of solar technology in their countries. If the US doesn’t help its Solar technology companies,  we will fall behind in this key technology of the future.
    The real story doesn’t indicate political influence was a factor in the Solyndra loan at all.

  11. Eric Adler says:

    Here is a link to a column by Joe Nocera, who has recently moved from being an editor at Fortune Magazine to a post at the NY Times.
    “….But if we could just stop playing gotcha for a second, we might realize that federal loan programs “” especially loans for innovative energy technologies “” virtually require the government to take risks the private sector won’t take. Indeed, risk-taking is what these programs are all about. Sometimes, the risks pay off. Other times, they don’t. It’s not a taxpayer ripoff if you don’t bat 1.000; on the contrary, a zero failure rate likely means that the program is too risk-averse. Thus, the real question the Solyndra case poses is this: Are the potential successes significant enough to negate the inevitable failures?
    I have a hard time answering “no.” Most electricity today is generated by coal-fired power plants, operated by monopoly, state-regulated utilities. Because they’ve been around so long, and because coal is cheap, these plants have built-in cost advantages that no new technology can overcome without help. The federal guarantees help lower the cost of capital for technologies like solar; they help spur innovation; and they help encourage private investment. These are all worthy goals.
    To say “no” is also to cede the solar panel industry to China, which last year alone provided some $30 billon in subsidies for its solar industry. Over all, the American solar industry is a big success story; it now employs more people than either steel or coal, and it’s a net exporter.  ….”

  12. EdG says:

    Seems to me that the ‘real story’ here is why the Obamites pushed this through over the objections and questions of those who they SHOULD have listened to.

    Somebody’s friends just stole half a billion dollars from the taxpayers, again.

  13. Bill says:

    Describing solar power as a “strategic industry” is just pitifully gullible. Solar produces power at at least 5X the cost of fossil fuels. Would building jumbo jets that can only travel at 140mph be a “vital strategic industry”? 

    Even in purely ecological terms, the miniscule output of solar panels means it must be doubtful that the CO2 cost of making and installing them is ever recouped. 

  14. Tom Fuller says:

    Bill at #13, I do believe events will prove you wrong in your estimates of solar’s potential.

  15. gallopingcamel says:

    Tom Scharf  & Eric Adler,
    You are absolutely right.  Targeted incentives waste the taxpayer’s money while creating scandals even when honest people are in charge.
    Is there a better way?  Yes, but it is a road less traveled.
    The Republic of Ireland instituted an industrial incentive scheme in the 1970s that was based on tax incentives.  The result was the “Celtic Tiger” that matched the growth rates of Hong Kong and Singapore for 30 years.

  16. gallopingcamel says:

    While I love renewables and especially rooftop solar it is unrealistic to expect such technologies to replace large scale electricity generation based on fossil fuels or nuclear power.  I strongly recommend that you check out Barry Brook (University of Adelaide) and his “Brave New Climate”.   While this is a “Warmist” blog, even skeptics like this camel are tolerated:

  17. Jeff Norris says:

    Despite burying it the story is heading this way.
    What’s so troubling is that politics seems to be the dominant factor,” said Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan watchdog group. “They’re not talking about what the taxpayers are losing; they’re not talking about the failure of the technology, whether we bet on the wrong horse. What they are talking about is “˜How are we going to manage this politically?'”‰”

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