Top 5 Reasons Why Solyndra’s Failure is No Reason to Abandon Clean Energy

by Rory Cox

In the last weeks, Solyndra, a Fremont-based solar manufacturer, filed for bankruptcy. What made this event of special interest was the fact that Solyndra received about half a billion dollars in loan guarantees as part of the federal stimulus program, and became a “poster child” for the program after President Obama’s appearance at their factory last year. Needless to say, opponents of progress are using this event to attack Obama, solar energy, and government investment in clean energy. Here are five reasons why they’re wrong.

1. Solyndra is a rare instance of failure for the government Loan Guarantee Program (LPG). According to a piece in Forbes ,“…when judged by its entire diverse portfolio of investments, the LGP has performed remarkably well. Indeed, with a capitalization of just $4 billion, DOE has committed or closed $37.8 billion in loan guarantees for 36 innovative clean energy projects. The Solyndra case represents less than 2% of total loan commitments made by DOE… ” It’s bad political luck that the company that went belly up is the same one that Obama chose for a personal appearance, but in the big scheme of things, this is a mere bump in the road for a wildly successful program.

2. The US solar industry is a big job creator, and will continue to be. The solar industry now employs more people in the US than the steel industry, a barometer of US economic power. Many solar companies are expanding rapidly, fueled by state and federal incentive programs. The same week Solyndra went bankrupt, Solaria, another Bay Area manufacturer, announced it was expanding and looking for another facility. Meanwhile, retail installation companies like Sungevity, SunRun, Recurrent and many others continue their expansion. And California’s terrific clean energy mandates and incentives will continue to drive job creation in our state.

3. Dirty Energy is Heavily Subsidized. The US government subsidized dirty energy before they even knew it was dirty energy. Subsidies for the oil and coal industries go back over 100 years, and continue to dwarf subsidies for clean energy. According to a report from the Environmental Law Institute, from 2002 to 2008 fossil fuels received $70.2 billion in subsidies and tax breaks, while renewables received $12.2 billion.

4. Renewables are Good for the Bottom Line. Investing in clean energy is one way businesses can save money. According to the UK’s Carbon Trust Advisory, businesses in that country can count on average returns of 11 to 12 percent for investments made into onsite renewable energy systems. These savings are kept at home and can be reinvested back into the business, rather than sending money to an energy oligarchy.

5. Global Warming is Still a Problem. Maybe people who watch Fox News – like Rick Perry – might convince themselves otherwise, but recent extreme weather events ought to set off alarm bells that the climate is getting sicker. Parts of Texas are burning to a crisp, the East Coast is being battered by killer storms, crops are failing around the word, and remember all of those crazy tornadoes last spring? It seems every week new photos come out showing continued Arctic melting. Don’t be fooled by anyone who says it’s impolitic to raise the red flag about global warming—it’s happening, and the US should be taking an “all hands on deck” approach, promoting clean energy full bore.

It’s a shame an innovating solar company went bankrupt. But the real story continues to be California’s leadership in driving clean energy investment and creating jobs. That’s a win for Californians that the Federal government should replicate, not run away from.

Rory Cox is Senior Energy Consultant to Pacific Environment and a Together Green fellow.

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