January 17, 2011
Obama's Solar Nightmare
The Democrats have been busy the last two years, and not just reengineering the health care industry, restructuring the auto sector, assaulting Wall Street and the financial sector, and harming our public finances. They have also been trying to transform America's energy industry at our expense. This is Barack Obama at his worst -- picking losers and winners by personal whim, donations for dollars deals, and ideological zeal.
Who have been the losers, and who have been the winners? And have the winners just been taking the taxpayers for a ride while their guy has been driving the bus -- with taxpayers sitting in the back?
The Obama administration has tried to kill off the oil industry. Offshore moratoriums have been unilaterally imposed by executive orders and justified using scientific panel studies that were misrepresented -- if not distorted -- by the administration. The drilling permit process has been afflicted with sclerosis. Federal lands are becoming less and less available for development.
Obama does not like carbon; he boasted during the campaign that he would bankrupt coal power plants and that his policies would necessarily boost the price of power. Those words were ignored by much of the media, in thrall to the man they so wanted to win. When the rapture swept journalists into ecstasy, who cared about little details here and there?
Obama tried and failed to get a cap-and-trade bill through Congress. He warned that if that effort failed, he would do another end run around Congress and rely on his Environmental Protection Agency to do his dirty work.
Who knows? Maybe Obama has personalized his gripes and made them the basis of public policy. We know how he feels about George Bush and Dick Cheney -- both with strong ties to the oil industry. Maybe he just doesn't care for the South, where much of our carbon wealth is found -- a Republican redoubt that he may have just written off as a political wasteland.
Hence gas prices approaching four dollars a gallon -- and this is not yet the summer driving season that typically boosts gas prices as demand increases.
This price hike may make New York Times columnist Tom Friedman gleeful. He considers high-priced gas (and Chinese authoritarianism) the answer to all ills. He writes column after column on these topics from the baronial splendor of his homes (here is a photo of one of them; he earned his fortune, by the way, by marrying it). Undoubtedly, he salves his conscience regarding the carbon footprints of his homes with checks to buy carbon credits -- and writes more columns castigating us for our addiction to carbon.
But I digress.
How else have the Democrats been trying to change our power industry? The old-fashioned way: changing the rules of the game (as noted above) and then using our tax dollars to enrich green schemers. The grand champion of spending boosts by Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress has been a 1,014% boost in spending for the "Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Program." Then there is something called the Green Jobs Labor Fund -- which did not even exist prior to 2009 and has received hundreds of millions of dollars.
But wait...there is more.
Much of the stimulus money also went toward funding green schemes, and one of the major beneficiaries have been solar power promoters. These are, in the words of Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson, "pipe dreams." Many of the promoters and hucksters behind these "ventures" have chummy relationships with Democrats -- as will be covered below.
How are these solar dreams playing out? As nightmares, at least for taxpayers.
The latest to turn off the lights is a Massachusetts venture promoted by its governor, Deval Patrick.
From the Boston Globe:
Evergreen Solar Inc. will eliminate 800 jobs in Massachusetts and shut its new factory at the former military base in Devens, just two years after it opened the massive facility to great fanfare and with about $58 million in taxpayer subsidies.The company announced yesterday that it will close the plant by the end of March, calling itself a victim of weak demand and competition from cheaper suppliers in China, where the government provides solar companies with generous subsidies.Evergreen itself has a factory in Wuhan, China, built in collaboration with a Chinese company, Jiawei Solarchina Co. Ltd., and with money from a Chinese government investment fund. The company had previously said it would shift some production from Devens to the Wuhan plant but yesterday was the first time it said Devens would be closed.The Devens closing is a major hit to Governor Deval Patrick's efforts to make Massachusetts a hub of the emerging clean-energy industry. The administration persuaded Evergreen to build at Devens with a package of grants, land, loans, and other aid originally valued at $76 million. The company ended up taking about $58 million, one of the largest aid packages Massachusetts has provided to a private company, and the governor was the featured guest at Evergreen's ribbon-cutting in July 2008.
Governor Patrick had been criticized during his reelection campaign for providing aid to the plant during a time of economic stress. He ignored the criticism and plowed ahead. He and Barack Obama shared more than plagiarized speech lines and campaign strategist David Axelrod.
There are claw-back provisions allowing the state to recover some of the lost money. But these are mostly window dressing. Officials admit that the terms are so complicated and generous that any recovery will be only a token amount. Company officials agree.
This is, of course, an outrage. Money is fungible. Evergreen used its own money to expand in China, took taxpayer dollars to take a fling in Massachusetts, and when that venture failed, just closed the doors and walked away. What a deal! Taxpayers take the risk. If the venture had succeeded, the company and its promoters and investors would have pocketed the gains; when it failed, they just walked away with nary an ounce of obligations to taxpayers. Were the lights, at least, run on solar power?
The landscape of America will be littered with these green scheme boondoggles going belly-up after gorging at the trough filled by American taxpayer dollars. Another taxpayer-subsidized solar cell maker shut down recently in New York, for example.
Solar power subsidies have helped bankrupt the Spanish economy, and the very government officials who have peddled these schemes are backpedaling furiously to keep their jobs as their taxpayers rise in revolt. The government is slashing subsidies left and right, but it may already be too late to save their economy. Meanwhile, at least one Spanish solar power company has found a temporary bandage to slow its fiscal hemorrhaging -- the American taxpayer. Democratic Congressman Paul Kanjorksi, who was not reelected in November, has a nephew who "worked" for the Spanish solar company Abound. Somehow, this foreign company was blessed with a 400-million-dollar federal grant. Abound will probably join its rivals in Spain into ruin -- the Spanish landscape will be littered with uneconomic solar power plants that will bear more than a little resemblance, metaphorically speaking, to the windmills of Miguel Cervantes' Don Quixote.
Even the Spanish media have warned America that Obama is driving America off the green energy cliff. Other European governments are slashing solar tariffs as fast as they can to save themselves from drowning in red ink.
Does anyone believe that Barack Obama listens, or that this self-declared "student of history" would learn from the Spanish tragedy? Did he listen to Larry Summers, his own resident genius (who recently left the administration) when Summers highlighted a study from the OMB and Treasury Department that found severe problems with the "economic integrity of government support for renewables"?
Only in Washington would a term such as "economic integrity" be used to describe a fiscally foolish program that will lead to massive problems in the future.
This tsunami of bankruptcies is headed our way.
Many of the execs and investors behind these green schemes are Democratic donors and those who have toiled in Democratic party politics for years. Solyndra was another solar scheme that received 535 million dollars in federal tax dollars. The "investment" was widely touted by the Obama administration. The firm was chock-full of investors and executives who were generous Democratic donors and activists. One of its biggest investors was a big bundler for the Obama-Biden campaign.
Solyndra also closed one of its plants and laid off workers after gouging on the aid.
But wait...there is more. The hucksterism runs rampant.
Solyndra's auditor could not issue an opinion that would have allowed the company to go public and for its investors to cash out. The reason? Solyndra was so badly run that doubts were raised regarding its ability to continue as a going concern. The backers may have lacked much as investors and scientists. But as crony capitalists, they excelled.
A cloud is passing over these solar schemes.
They are inefficient boondoggles. They generate electric power at a cost vastly more expensive than electricity generated by natural gas (a relatively clean-burning fuel), hydro, coal -- and, of course, nuclear. But the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress are on a crusade to foreclose the use of these fuels to power our nation. The Democrats are "enemies" (to use a word Obama has used to describe opponents) of natural gas development (see my column, "Cheap Natural Gas and its Democratic Enemies"), want to blow up dams, kill coal (the EPA is on a rampage against Big Coal), and choke off nuclear power plants by stopping the development of a repository for nuclear waste. We are being force-fed green schemes like so much spinach Michelle Obama might force down our gullets.
Solar power plants are inefficient and cannot survive on their own. Instead, they survive by virtue of an IV flowing from taxpayers to tax-takers. Eventually, reality catches up to fantasy, and they close. Solar stocks are losers in the stock market, that harsh judge of economics.
Death panels would be better used to evaluate the values of these ventures, not the value of our lives.
Much of the stimulus money, as well as the Department of Energy budget, went toward these renewable green energy schemes. A quarter of a billion dollars (chump change in Washington, but real money to us, who are paying for it) went to fund a weatherization program in Obama's hometown of Chicago that was marked by fraud and shoddy work. That is just one example.
The solar power schemes will become one bright, shining example of liberal politics run amok. We will be paying the price for these schemes and boondoggles for years to come. Meanwhile, the Chinese are happy that we are in hock to them as we borrow billions to pay for these fantasies and schemes. They also benefit since many of the green jobs that Obama touts happen to be in China -- a nation that may be violating World Trade Organization rules when it exports solar panels (don't believe the hype regarding China and solar power; they will sell us uneconomic solar panels but meanwhile, back at home, burn massive amounts of coal to fuel their growing economy).
The government is a notoriously bad investor when it comes to clean energy. Barack Obama and his band of zealots have very little real-world business experience -- and seem to disdain free enterprise. But this green energy crusade may have more than just ideological zealotry fueling its drive. Recall that Obama likes to pick winners and losers, and not just in basketball tournaments.
He hails from Chicago, after all.
Darrell Issa, now chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, will investigate these green energy projects and get to the bottom of how we have been ripped off by green schemers and their friends in high places. He has already announced that one item on his agenda will be how the Obama administration has spent our money. He may have misspoken a bit when he called the Obama administration the most corrupt in history, but corruption there has been, and Issa is ideally positioned to ferret it out and prevent it from happening in the future.
Issa made his fortune creating and selling Viper car alarms. He does not care for wrongdoers, and neither should we, because we, the taxpayers, are the ones being ripped off.
Ed Lasky is news editor of American Thinker.