Solyndra and the scandal of Tomorrowland

posted at 3:30 pm on October 2, 2011 by Karl

Megan McArdle, explaining why the federal loan guarantee to the now-bankrupt solar company Solyndra is more venture socialism than venture capitalism, concluded:

[T]his isn’t much like a VC. Or anything else that makes financial sense in the private sector. It’s like… the government giving money to companies that sound whizzy.

Instapundit Glenn Reynolds added: “A more cynical explanation is that the ‘sound whizzy’ is just meant to be a distraction from what’s really no more than a payoff to political supporters.” When the history of the Solydra debacle is fully written, Prof. Reynolds may well be correct about the political payoff angle. However, our sprawling federal government offer myriad opportunities for political payoffs, so it’s worth examining why the Obama administration would throw hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars at things that “sound whizzy.” To invoke a Beltway cliche, a scandal may be what is legal more than what is illegal. The Solyndra case sheds light on the larger Scandal of Tomorrowland.

Before Solyndra went bust, solar industry leaders would frankly admit to friendly media that “the growth of their US operations is vitally dependent upon a fragile matrix of government support — state renewable portfolio standards and federal tax credits, grants and construction loan guarantees.” (There are echoes of Obamacare here, with government mandates and government subsidies propping up a Potemkin marketplace.) There are at least three major reasons solar fails as a feasible alternate energy source — diffuseness, cost and unreliability — and little progress has been made in addressing them. For example, regarding diffuseness, environmentalists have already opposed efforts to build large solar plants in the Mojave desert. On the issue of cost:

Energy Secretary Steven Chu says that the billions of dollars in federal stimulus money directed toward solar-power will cut solar power costs in half by 2015. It’s a grand sounding prediction, but his own Energy Information Agency projects that electricity from solar cells will cost nearly five times as much as electricity from natural-gas-fired power plants. And that’s without any adjustment for the unreliable nature of solar power or for the additional transmission costs.

On the issue of reliability, if you pore over the International Energy Agency’s “roadmap” for photovoltaic solar energy (.pdf), looking behind the grandiose predictions, you will find much more diktat than detail, with storage and transmission issues punted to “emerging” technologies. People used to the lights going on when they flip the switch and not freezing to death during long winter nights will come away unimpressed.

In short, the solar outlook is not sunny, which is why lefties like Ezra Klein and Dave Johnsen are reduced to defending the energy welfare state with assertions like: “If our success rate is too high, it means government is making bad investments,” and “the purpose of our government’s involvement in this is to help trigger an ecosystem around which a green-energy industry can grow.” Pouring money we don’t have down a rat hole only triggers an ecosystem for rats, which would tend to bolster the Instapundit’s point. And yet, I still think there is more to it than that.

Part of it is the left’s belief in the coming global warming apocalypse. It is a crisis the left does not want to go to waste, given the massive statism that would be involved in forcing the world off fossil fuels by federal fiat. The most feasible alt-energy remains nuclear, but American greens are bitterly divided on nuclear power, leaving them with solar and wind (which should embarrass on both counts those claiming to be the Party of Science). The hardest of hardcore greens will admit they want humanity to make do with less; the rest dress up this political poison in fuzzy notions of “sustainability.” Pretending that solar and wind are the near-future allows progressives to avoid the appearance of luddism and pose as leaning forward, rather than the movement of 20th century nostalgia they really are. It is not unlike the way Walt Disney’s original vision of Tomorrowland in his theme parks has morphed into a quaint retro-futurism that never was and never will be. That is the larger scandal behind giving money to companies that sound whizzy.

This post was promoted from GreenRoom to HotAir.com.
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This is much worse than Watergate ever was…

Khun Joe on October 2, 2011 at 3:40 PM

Follow the money.

Rational Thought on October 2, 2011 at 3:42 PM

I think it is absolutely obscene that a company receiving govt. funds can then donate to the same govt. that gave them those funds.

arnold ziffel on October 2, 2011 at 3:43 PM

Solyndra sucked from so many angles… if it was their personal money… none of the government players who helped get the loan guarantees would have ever decided to do anything but steer clear.
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It’s easy to be wasteful when all you have to do is demonize the truly industrious and raise taxes.
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But this is crossing into theft and money laundering. Jail time is required…
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RalphyBoy on October 2, 2011 at 3:48 PM

In all of the horrible reporting on this scandal, there is this: Solyndra was a small company, right? Just where in the hell did they spend half a billion dollars? Where did the money go?! No one seems to have addressed that question. Could it be possible that government money was going to Solyndra…and then being funneled back into the democrat party? I really wonder, and I’m not prone to conspiracy theories. But what in the hell did they spend all of that money? Does this company have half a billion dollars in invoices and payroll receipts? WTH? Then let’s see it.

Rational Thought on October 2, 2011 at 3:49 PM

Remember as well this highly significant quote from a WSJ weekend interview with oil executive Harold Hamm, discoverer of the Bakken fields of the northern Great Plains:

His only beef these days is with Washington. Mr. Hamm was invited to the White House for a “giving summit” with wealthy Americans who have pledged to donate at least half their wealth to charity. (He’s given tens of millions of dollars already to schools like Oklahoma State and for diabetes research.) “Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, they were all there,” he recalls.

When it was Mr. Hamm’s turn to talk briefly with President Obama, “I told him of the revolution in the oil and gas industry and how we have the capacity to produce enough oil to enable America to replace OPEC. I wanted to make sure he knew about this.”

The president’s reaction? “He turned to me and said, ‘Oil and gas will be important for the next few years. But we need to go on to green and alternative energy. [Energy] Secretary [Steven] Chu has assured me that within five years, we can have a battery developed that will make a car with the equivalent of 130 miles per gallon.’” Mr. Hamm holds his head in his hands and says, “Even if you believed that, why would you want to stop oil and gas development? It was pretty disappointing.”

Drained Brain on October 2, 2011 at 3:50 PM

All the advances of the past weren’t made because of government subsidy. Edison and Westinghouse weren’t on the government dole. People didn’t move from burning wood, to coal, to oil because Uncle Sam said it was the “best” way to go.

The left is obsessed with social engineering at every level. Fueled, of course, by campaign contributions from those “lucky” enough to get government contracts to implement their socialist designs.

GarandFan on October 2, 2011 at 3:52 PM

Solyndra and the scandal of “Tomorrowland”.

You mean he was mixed up with Michael Jackson too?

Oh, for Pete’s Sake! When will the scandals end?

hawkdriver on October 2, 2011 at 3:56 PM

This is much worse than Watergate ever was…

Khun Joe on October 2, 2011 at 3:40 PM

I’ve been thinking that for weeks. Too bad the real media doesn’t get it.

BierManVA on October 2, 2011 at 4:08 PM

I think it is absolutely obscene that a company receiving govt. funds can then donate to the same govt. that gave them those funds.arnold ziffel on October 2, 2011 at 3:43 PM

I agree Arnold. It’s plainly a corrupt practice. And if Obama is re-elected Solyndra will become, as he said, a model for the future. The MSM coverage of this scandal is itself a scandal

Basilsbest on October 2, 2011 at 4:10 PM

I’ve been thinking that for weeks. Too bad the real media doesn’t get it.

BierManVA on October 2, 2011 at 4:08 PM

Oh, they get it!

whbates on October 2, 2011 at 4:53 PM

Whizzy? Is that anything like wee wee’d up?

abcurtis on October 2, 2011 at 5:06 PM

Rational Thought on October 2, 2011 at 3:49 PM

A question that is crying for an answer.

ru2sel on October 2, 2011 at 6:08 PM

And yet, I blame the masses that voted for this as much as those who are doing this to us. They helped it, by the simple, but important task of voting.

capejasmine on October 2, 2011 at 6:13 PM

This is only the tip of the iceberg. If the LSM (that’s Lame Stream Media) would only report on some of this stuff maybe we could stop some of it.

duff65 on October 2, 2011 at 6:14 PM

This is a great post. Read it strategically. This is the goofy left

JAW on October 2, 2011 at 6:20 PM

Pretending that solar and wind are the near-future allows progressives to avoid the appearance of luddism and pose as leaning forward, rather than the movement of 20th century nostalgia they really are.

Bingo. Luddism and atavism.

petefrt on October 2, 2011 at 6:41 PM

When something becomes economically viable it will be adapted. Too bad that Obama (and company) don’t understand that.

duff65 on October 2, 2011 at 6:47 PM

This is a great post. Read it strategically. This is the goofy left

JAW on October 2, 2011 at 6:20 PM

I thought it was a good post too. But my hunch is the left is not all goofy. Some are malevolent revolutionaries, knowing full well their design, and most of the rest are naive useful idiots.

petefrt on October 2, 2011 at 7:00 PM

. It is not unlike the way Walt Disney’s original vision of Tomorrowland in his theme parks has morphed into a quaint retro-futurism that never was and never will be.

A keen observation…..Tomorrowland is now trapped in time……Walt must be spinning in his….uh…….freezer maybe?

Tim_CA on October 2, 2011 at 7:23 PM

energy. [Energy] Secretary [Steven] Chu has assured me that within five years, we can have a battery developed that will make a car with the equivalent of 130 miles per gallon.’

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Anyone want to tell Barry that batteries are neither energy… nor all that green? In a car they are the equivalent of a gas tank, and mining, refining, and turning those ‘high capacity’ minerals into a storage cell can be harsh to the ecosystem, and requires… energy.
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RalphyBoy on October 2, 2011 at 7:31 PM

That pic (on the main page) reminds me too much of this:

http://kimjongillookingatthings.tumblr.com/

Hannibal Smith on October 2, 2011 at 7:51 PM

SOLYNDRA GREEN IS PEOPLE!

theCork on October 2, 2011 at 8:29 PM

The Obama administration has the power to spend huge amounts of other people’s money (yours) and it wastes mountains of it on crony capitalism while cutting what we need .

So many scandals! What does it take to impeach this disaster?

Chessplayer on October 2, 2011 at 8:56 PM

“the purpose of our government’s involvement in this is to help trigger an ecosystem around which a green-energy industry can grow.”
WTF? ecosystem? let’s just /strike kill the academics/strike I mean, replace them ….ahem
B

Bobnormal on October 2, 2011 at 9:21 PM

Energy Secretary Steven Chu says that the billions of dollars in federal stimulus money directed toward solar-power will cut solar power costs in half by 2015. It’s a grand sounding prediction, but his own Energy Information Agency projects that electricity from solar cells will cost nearly five times as much as electricity from natural-gas-fired power plants.

So with all the federal money, solar electricity will cost only 2-1/2 times as much as electricity from natural gas. Ain’t Chu great?

Un-fracking-believable.

Steve Z on October 3, 2011 at 9:23 AM