Like so many other scandalous episodes, the media long ago dismissed the controversy surrounding the green energy firm Solyndra. A little corruption at taxpayer expense is the cost of doing green business, the left-leaning members of the press apparently tell themselves.
“Now that the loan program is turning a profit, those critics are silent,” a 2014 National Public Radio report highlighting the bountiful successes of the Energy Department’s green energy loan program read. “[Energy Secretary Ernest] Moniz points to a small company called Beacon Power as an example. It got an Energy Department loan, went bankrupt and defaulted on about $14 million in debt. Today the company is back in business, providing a valuable service to electricity grids and repaying the rest of its loan.”
Only in Washington would a publicly funded media outlet praising a publicly funded boondoggle not strike anyone as obscenely perverse.
But for all the government’s green energy success stories, there are far more abject failures. The Investors Business Daily editorial board warned of the coming corruption scandals involving renewable energy investments in 2012:
Other Solyndras are coming to light, the latest being Sapphire Energy. Its pond-scum-based biofuel still costs over $26 a gallon, but that doesn’t matter when your executives give almost solely to Democrats.
The Washington Free Beacon reports that after $104.5 million in stimulus and other Energy and Agriculture Department funds for a New Mexico facility, it can boast just 36 new jobs. UC Berkeley’s Energy Biosciences Institute says it’ll take a decade before we know if algae-based fuel can compete with gas.
The Washington Post recently found “$3.9 billion in federal grants and financing flowed to 21 companies backed by firms with connections to five Obama administration staffers and advisers.”
In that same year, Ed Morrissey asked how the bankrupt Colorado solar panel manufacturer Abound Solar was awarded $68 million in subsidies despite having a documented history of manufacturing an underperforming product and “catastrophic failures.” But at least Beacon Power is doing well.
For years, Democratic politicians have been untouched by the scandalous antics of the green firms they supported. But the Democrats’ green energy chickens are finally coming home to roost. The rolling clean power fiasco has claimed a new scalp, and it is no small prize: Four-term Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber.
“Oregon’s controversy has created new questions for billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer, a major Democratic supporter and bundler for Mr. Obama,” The Washington Times reported last week. “It also has renewed questions about whether the nation’s embrace of clean energy has become a lobbying bonanza that enriched some well-heeled Democrats.”
The scandal that sunk Kitzhaber and now threatens to impugn the reputation of one of the Democratic Party’s most prolific donors revolves entirely around the deference given to those in the green energy sector. Kitzhaber’s fiancé, Cylvia Hayes, allegedly collected $118,000 in fees while serving as an “unpaid policy advisor” to the environmentalist nonprofit based in Washington D.C. that was tasked with setting low-carbon fuel standards for the Beaver State.
The Clean Economy Development Center went out of business after the IRS pulled its tax-exempt status. Before it did, the center received funding for Ms. Hayes‘ fellowship from another nonprofit, the Energy Foundation, which in 2012 received $200,000 in funding from Mr. Steyer’s “TomKat” Charitable Trust, according to the group’s latest 990 tax form.
The Energy Foundation hired Ms. Hayes directly in 2013 for communications work, giving her a contract of $50,000, according to documents and interviews.
The web of payments, the failure to disclose and questions about influence peddling have prompted the state’s attorney general to open an ethics investigation. Republican state lawmakers also have demanded a suspension of the new fuel legislation, which would keep Oregon’s low carbon fuel standards in place instead of expiring this year.
It is a safe bet that Kitzhaber’s implosion has sent the rest of the nation’s Democratic governors, and even a few officeholders in Washington, scrambling to review their affairs. It is the very nature of green energy that its unprofitability ensures that it is only viable in the marketplace if it is subsidized at taxpayer expense. The political class’ favorability toward clean energy and the media’s deference to the project of green technology have created the perfect conditions where corruption can thrive.
Is Kitzhaber the only politician in America with links to green projects that would not stand up to scrutiny? Don’t bet the house on it. The Democratic Party’s dream of a clean energy future is rapidly evolving into their nightmare.