Cue the screech-monkeys:
- It's Obama's fault
- It shows [the Obama team] doesn't have any business sense
- We need investigations of this rampant cronyism
- This is why Gov't shouldn't get involved in business
- This proves green-energy is a bust
Does the failure of Solyndra demonstrate the shortcomings of Green Energy?
Well... let me put it a different way...
Did the failures of Stanley Motors or Studebaker prove that the whole "horseless carriage" craze was just a passing fad?
Did the failure of Pets.com (and many, MANY other .com's) prove that this whole "Internets" thing Al Gore kept harping on about was just a flash in the pan?
Well... If you're reading this now, and/or happened to DRIVE ANYWHERE this week, you know that these statements are patently absurd. But there IS still an important lesson to learn here! In Climate discussions, there's always one of these same screech-monkeys claiming that we "can't even predict the weather TOMORROW, so how do we know what the CLIMATE will be DECADES from now?!" (And yes, despite its grammatical structure, that's a CLAIM, not a QUESTION. It's only a question if you're looking for an ANSWER. And screech-monkey's questions are ALWAYS rhetorical.) And I liken tomorrows weather to the climate (or the local weather to the global climate) as a single company's performance to that of the entire economy. That's very apt here.
As was the case with Automobiles or the Internet, there is little doubt that the TECHNOLOGY is going to be around for awhile, and that at some point will be a booming industry. That's relative easy to foresee. What's difficult? Is predicting WHICH COMPANIES will succeed in bringing that industry about. Consider Cars: Just after the turn of the last century, there were over 100 Companies making automobiles in this country alone. Today there are THREE. (And although I do recommend checking out the fine work being done by Tesla and Fisker, they aren't even a grain of sand on the mountain of the Big-3 yet. So, we'll stick with three.) So... back in ~1910, if you wanted to invest in the Auto Industry, despite being pretty sure that the INDUSTRY would thrive, you would have a damned hard time picking which COMPANY would. Same goes for the Internet: There was never any doubt that it would change the world and be HUGE. But who bought Yahoo! instead of Google? Who bought Pets.com? Who bought into any one of a thousand other .com's that rose and fell in the late 1990's and early 2000's?
What's my point? Well... I'm sort of conceding the next couple of points up the list, actually:
1) The gov't shouldn't get this involved in business, because 2) It smacks of cronyism and (as I've laid out) it's nearly impossible to consistently pick which COMPANY will succeed, even if you know that the INDUSTRY is growing - Warren Buffet not withstanding, but 3) he's not Obama's economic advisor! (That's three of their points conceded, in a post where I disagree with them! Dang!)
But hey: I'm a pretty green guy. I'm no eco-warrior, but I do believe that Global Warming is a legitimate threat and that we need to seriously get away from what I call the "burning shit" model of generating energy. So what do I suggest we do, if not directly support fledgling green-power businesses?
Well... there are a few things, and some of the philosophy borrows from Free-Market Libertarianism. And the rest runs precisely counter to it! Here's what might have been done instead:
1) Instead of making a Half-Billion dollar LOAN, why not put up a contract - FOR BID - for half a billion dollars worth of Solar Panels? Then let companies compete to see who can come up with the scratch to support it and deliver. Worst case? (They fail?) You don't pay a dime. Best case? You've got economic stimulus, new technology, competition, etc... (All those things the Right says they want) and at the same time, you're helping the environment: Use the panels at all federal buildings, military bases, state buildings, etc... And spur growth that way.
That's the Libertarian way, and I believe this is one instance in which their way is the better one. Here's another way:
2) Raise CAFE Standards, sign and ratify Kyoto II (or whatever the latest climate treaty is), pass Cap and Trade... or better: just penalize those companies that don't meet the new, stricter emissions and Carbon standards. Then? Go right back to the Libertarian way and let industry sort out for themselves how to make it all happen!
Why do I think this would work? I'll go back to my example of Cars and the Internet...
In the late 1960's, Ralph Nader started a national campaign to improve automotive safety. One of the things that came out of that was something known as FMVSS 209, aka: WHAT I DO FOR A LIVING. (I'm an automotive seat belt engineer. So... Thanks for my job, Mister Nader, but you can still GFY for giving us George W. Bush. And the thing is, while you can't pass FMVSS 209 Testing without a seat belt (after all the regulation is FOR seat belts) it doesn't tell you HOW to make one. (Or WHO can make one.) Likewise, we have NCAP testing - this is where those 4-Star and 5-Star safety ratings come from. Now... you can't get a good Star-Rating without airbags. But the regulation does NOT tell you WHAT airbags you need, where to put them, or how to design them. And what we DO, as engineers, is to come up with better designs. We compete amongst our various companies to deliver BETTER safety restraints, and to do it CHEAPER and FASTER than the next guy. And today we have fewer automotive fatalites annually that we did in the 1950's. Not fewer per capita, mind you, or per mile driven, that's fewer OVERALL, despite having something like 10 times as many people on the road, each driving many times as many miles on average as they did way back when.
This approach? (Set a target and let industry figure out to meet it?) WORKS.
Now consider the Internet. When you consider the version that the legislation sponsored by former Vice President Gore helped bring about, it's fairly utopian: No one "owns" it, users generate their own content, all voices are equal, and anyone can use it as they see fit and as the technology they develop themself allows. And that's what been the key to it's success: At no point in time did the Government, or a company step in to decide exactly HOW things would run, or WHAT it could (and could not) be used for. No one pick and chose, and it wasn't managed.
And the way this applies to Solar Energy?
Well... Who's to say that Solyndra's designs were the best, or that they're the company that will succeed? Why pick and choose? Set the target and let the ENGINEERS do their work. Some companies will fail, but the TECHNOLOGY and the INDUSTRY isn't going away. In the meantime, there's no reason to start placing bets on individual firms with tax-payer money.
As for it all being Obama's fault?
Well, shoot... EVERYTHING is Obama's fault, isn't it?