In case you missed the news the week: once upon a time, there was a solar technology company named Solyndra. In 2009, Vice President Biden stood out before the company and touted all of its potential while announcing that it would receive a $535 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy. Two years later, the company filed for bankruptcy.
Republican Members of Congress would have you believe that this loan guarantee gone awry is yet another reason the federal government cannot be trusted. Further yet, why President Obama cannot be trusted. After all, it was his administration that pushed through—without proper vetting—a loan to shoddy company that has left taxpayers on the hook for $527 million ($8 million was not used).
We can argue back and forth about which administration is really to blame for this—because both the Bush and Obama administrations overlapped in the consideration of the loan guarantee for Solyndra. Or, we can leave the investigation to DOJ and focus on the real heart of the matter: will we let one bad moment wipe out any momentum we had for taking a stake in the solar energy market? The United States had an impressive year this year; we were a net exporter of solar technologies. Solar energy brought our economy $1.9 billion in profits. That’s huge, especially considering that the U.S. government does little to support this industry (in 2007, solar received a mere $14 million in subsidies compared to $1.3 billion for nuclear or $2.2 billion for refined coal). What this profit indicates is that there is a strong market for solar technology.
Guess who recognizes that? China. The Chinese are seizing on the opportunity to dominate the solar market. Last year, the Chinese government invested $30 billion in low-cost loans to the country’s top five solar technology manufacturers. What were the effects? Low priced technologies for sale. Great if you’re trying to complete a project. Bad if you’re a company trying to compete.
We wouldn’t need to concern ourselves if the U.S. was doing something comparable. The problem is we’re not. China’s investment of $30 billion was 20 times greater than that of the U.S. No arms race equivalent here. Instead, we have Senator David Vitter (R-La.) introducing the Federal Accountability of Renewable Energy (FARE) Act because “we can’t afford any more crony capitalism where the federal government picks winners and losers and then leaves taxpayers on the hook when everything falls apart.” Right. Don’t taxpayers foot the insurance bill for any nuclear projects gone wrong? (See the Price Anderson Act.) That’d be one heck of a bill relative to this.
Folks, we’re allowing one bad apple to destroy the potential of the bushel to make a great American apple pie. It’s time to point the finger at Republicans for letting one bad apple stand between us and harnessing all the benefits of the world’s most powerful energy source.