One has to wonder why,
six weeks before the Presidential election, we read about another large Government-funded solar start-up. But, this article (by Nichola Groom, Reuters) reports on a $197M loan offered to an Oregon-based company called SoloPower. Such news is sure to raise the specter of Solyndra, the California solar panel manufacturer that has become the poster child of President Obama’s so-called “crony Capitalism”.
Such political intrigue ignores the fact that the oil industry has enjoyed trillions of dollars of government largesse in its hundred year history. Add in the short- and long-term costs of oil-inspired wars and Solyndra’s half-billion default looks like penny-ante stuff. True, the world runs on oil. But, to denigrate an entire technology based on a failed financial scheme is myopic thinking of the highest order.
Solyndra was conceived and touted as an alternative to an alternative, which had still to prove itself as the definitive answer to our energy woes. Reaping free electricity from the sun, remarkably, has as many detractors as proponents. The viability of the solar industry relies on so many factors, that to re-invent the wheel at a time of financial and commodity supply fluctuations seems foolhardy to me. Solyndra failed, not because Obama’s friends siphoned the money off into their Cayman Island bank accounts, but because the innovative design was reliant upon a steady supply of silicon at a fixed price, not to mention a steady supply of venture capital, both of which are in questionable supply.
Should the US Government promote the solar industry through grants, loans and tax incentives? Of course they should. But, I argue that those supports should be extended to the companies that already exist, the manufacturing processes that have already proven themselves and the consumers who are green from the reflected light of a million leaves not a million dollars.