It seems high time to tackle the Solyndra “scandal” in our humble space. Quotations marks, of course, because there’s not much of a scandal, just an unfortunate story that appears to have become the most dramatic climate-energy derailment since Climategate. Also a scandal that had no impropriety, as was shown in several independent investigations.
But back to Solyndra. The California-based solar manufacturer has had a pretty crummy month since it declared bankruptcy in late August. It had received a $535 million loan guarantee from the government under the American Recovery Act, also known as the Obama stimulus. Going under essentially means that taxpayers are on the hook for that money, not the company itself, which is how a private sector would normally operate. But to make matters worse (not to mention a giant headache for the White House) President Obama visited the solar company in 2009 and touted it as the future of the green economy. He met with executives and posed in front of industrial solar panels to make his point.
Congressional Republicans have argued that Solyndra’s failure is a symbolic verdict of the stimulus, but the answer is actually quite different. And the reality is a lot less dramatic. Solyndra executives essentially made risky decisions that didn’t pan out, which is sort of how investments are supposed to work. The New York Times makes the point in Sunday’s paper:
Solyndra made a bad bet, investing heavily in a new type of solar array just as the price of silicon, the main ingredient in competitors’ solar cells, was dropping. Its demise should not spell the end of federal investment in the alternative fuels and energy sources that are critical to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, easing this country’s dependence on fossil fuels and keeping it competitive in the race for clean-energy jobs.
Of course any lapse in judgment in the White House or criminal activity should be investigated, especially when such a large amount of public funds are involved. Half a billion dollars could have gone to repairing our schools, fortifying our roads or fixing our health care system, and now it’s gone. That’s a shame.
But using one episode of a bad investment in an effort to derail a full industry — and one that’s the shown to be the fastest growing new field with enormous global implications and money — is a stunning case of intellectual dishonesty. And that, my friends, seems even more shameful.