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Peter Asmus says the Solyndra controversy misses the real story of public investment in renewables.
By Peter Asmus
The embers of Solyndra's flameout hadn't even started to cool before Republicans pounced. The East Bay solar company proved, they said, that renewable energy is a flop, government energy subsidies are a categorical error and the Obama Administration is an incompetent bunch of dreamers.
If they truly oppose government propping up the energy industry they might start with oil and gas. That industry has enjoyed a century of federal support averaging nearly $5 billion a year, thirteen times the average spent on all renewables. The renewable sector is delivering strong returns on taxpayer dollars, even with the loan guarantee program under fire. Solyndra was a small fraction of a $20 billion loan guarantee portfolio that has already generated almost $19 billion in private investment and thousands of jobs during a recession.
Solar photovoltaics create 10 to 20 times as many jobs as equivalent investments in nuclear, coal or natural gas and employs more than 100,000 in the U.S. today. Solyndra's Bay Area neighbors show U.S. solar job growth in action: SolarCity of San Mateo with over 1,200 employees. SunPower of San Jose with more than 1,000 and another 100 contracted manufacturers in Milpitas. Sungevity in Oakland employs hundreds, four times what it offered last year.
Solyndra failed because the industry succeeded in driving costs down by 75% since 2008, leaving Solyndra's relatively expensive product unable to compete. The real story, the one the Tea Party isn't telling, is that those same record cost reductions have helped make solar one of the fastest growing industries in America. We would be fools to pull the plug on it.
With a perspective, I'm Peter Asmus.