SUN MAY 06, 2012 AT 07:01 PM PDT
Solar subsidies follow path well known to oil, gas, coal and nuclear industries
When the solar manufacturer Solyndra went bankrupt, the critics had a field day with the Obama administration because of its $500 million loan guarantee to the company. It wasn't just evidence of favoritism and corruption that the likes of Republican Rep. Darrell Issa went after. It was the whole idea of subsidies to clean-and-green energy in and of themselves.
Much of the criticism was hoary ideological claptrap: the government shouldn't be picking winners and losers; there ought to be a level playing field among all energy sources; solar can never supply more than a teensy fraction of our energy needs; the renewables industry has gotten subsidies no other industry received. Ad nauseam.
Thirty-two years ago, when I still worked at the Solar Law Reporter, a publication of the Solar Energy Research Institute, a division of the newly minted Department of Energy, it was pretty much the same line of claptrap. On the technological side, solar, it was said, and wind-generated electricity and geothermal power and the other renewables, amounted to an ultra-expensive scam that would never be able to supply more than a minuscule fraction of the electricity needed to power the country.
Subsidies and, say, spending federal money for people like us to provide source material for laws friendly to solar (and wind, etc.) were a rip-off of the taxpayers it was said. Didn't matter whether these were as big as requiring utilities to buy power from renewable sources or as mundane as writing model laws for municipalities to govern whether a neighbor can plant trees that block a residence's solar panels. All nonsense said the naysayers. The engineering, it was claimed, would never be able to achieve what other sources could achieve. A happy fantasy at best. Just another Treasury drainer at worst, money that should go not to DOE but DOD.