Of Solyndra, Babies and Bathwater . . .

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For weeks now we’ve seen the Solyndra bankruptcy being used as a political punching bag. Now the overblown hype around one solar company is putting real industry growth and viable projects at risk. Enough is enough.

Last last week, SolarCity was informed that the DOE would not be able to move forward on its conditional loan guarantee for Project SolarStrong – a shining example of American military leadership on clean energy. The project sought to install solar panels on 160,000 military housing units across as many as 124 bases and 33 states, making it the country’s largest residential solar project by a long shot. In addition to generating secure homegrown power, SolarStrong would create sorely needed jobs in military communities across the country. The project is about as low-risk as it gets. It combines proven technology, a trusted solar developer, and strong private capital to deliver reliable returns to a highly credit-worthy customer. And yet SolarStrong has become a collateral damage in the DC political game. (See SolarCity’s appeal to Congress here). The military isn’t backing down from its support for renewables, and neither should federal or state policymakers.

Which is why we’re troubled to see fallout spread to the states – long the pioneers of solar and renewable energy progress in this country. California Treasurer Bill Lockyer has called for a moratorium on the state program that gives renewable energy companies sales tax exemptions.

Let’s take a look at what California’s investment in solar has achieved to date, shall we? In 2006, Governor Schwarzenegger launched an ambitious program for a million solar roofs—and more importantly, build a self-sustaining solar industry. The resulting California Solar Initiative has made the Golden State first in the nation in solar power generation and job creation. With nearly 1 gigawatt of self-generation installed and nearly 100,000 customers going solar across the state, grid parity — where solar can be generated for less than retail utility rates–is upon us. Our state’s cash-strapped schools are among the biggest beneficiaries. Los Angeles Unified School district, for example, is going solar in a big way—so much so that it expects to save $114 million in utility bills over the next twenty years. That money can now go to education rather than energy bills. To date, California public sector buildings have installed or in the process of installing over 600 MW worth of solar systems, which would result in over $2.5 billion in energy savings. And installing all that solar is creating a lot of jobs. And while California is home to many solar manufacturers – Solaria, SunPower, Miasole, and others – it’s important to remember that the vast majority of solar’s job opportunity is downstream on the installation side. Those are inherently local jobs that cannot be exported. That’s what we call a good return on investment.

Solar is delivering on its promise – in California and states nationwide. Why would policymakers choose to launch a full scale attack on this rare spot of economic opportunity? This is not about partisan politics. This is not about placing blame in the run up to an election. This is about precious American jobs, security and opportunity. And it deserves our support.

Vote Solar is a non-profit grassroots organization working to fight climate change and foster economic opportunity by bringing solar energy into the mainstream.

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

2 Comments

  1. The loss of one-half billion in taxpayer dollars is devastating when our economy is so bad. The Department of Energy, led by risk-taker former Wall St. hotshot Johnathan Stern, has invested badly and carelessly. Solyndra was a ill conceived start up and the executives were on the Obama Green gravy train all the way….from day one their operating costs were higher than other better solar panel companies. You need to realize that this was a political back room deal, and call out the Department of Energy and Administration on the “investment”.

  2. As I stated on my blog : ” From the Solyndra bankruptcy, you might be tempted to say that the US solar industry is going down. This is exactly the opposite as several factors are proving.

    1. To Climate Progress solar is the “fastest growing industry in America” ;

    2. To GreenTech Solar, the United States exported for nearly two billion USD of solar products in 2009 alone ;

    3. TreeHugger noted that the industry is employing 100,000 people and will continue to hire. “

    See my blog post for the links and more reflection.

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