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J. Patrick Coolican:

The Solyndra hippies are stealing our money

Updated Thursday, March 22, 2012 | 12:58 p.m.

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J. Patrick Coolican

Here’s the predictable response to President Barack Obama’s trip to Boulder City’s Copper Mountain Solar plant on Wednesday: Solar is for hippies; government doesn’t create jobs; Solyndra, Solyndra, Solyndra.

From the top.

Solar:

The government’s investment in the solar industry has begun to pay off, showing rapid growth. As Michael Grunwald noted last year in Time, during one two-month period in 2011, we added 7,000 megawatts of solar projects to the U.S. pipeline, which he notes is the equivalent of seven nuclear reactors.

Michael Yackira, the CEO of NV Energy, told me last year that the price of solar cells dropped 20 percent during the first five months of 2011 alone.

Nonsense. Drill now!

Government and innovation and jobs:

As Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute recently wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle, much of the important technology we use today can be traced to government, especially the Department of Defense. Microchips, the Internet, GPS and jet turbines are all heavily reliant on the Pentagon.

They cite UC Davis sociologist Fred Block, who looked at R&D Magazine’s annual list of the top 100 innovations and found the percentage relying in some way on government funding had increased during the past few decades; in 2006, 77 of 88 domestic winners were at least partially funded by government.

Socialism!

Solyndra:

The angry man on the radio told me I should be outraged about Solyndra.

Solyndra is the solar company that received a government loan guarantee and went bust. Of 40 companies that received loan guarantees totaling nearly $40 billion, two went bad, including Solyndra, which had some Democratic heavies among its financial backers, though Republicans were also investors. The White House ignored warnings that the company could be beaten by Chinese competition and then asked that a layoff announcement be postponed until after the 2010 election. The loan default was for more than $500 million.

A fiasco, no doubt, but we should have some perspective. Remember the $6.6 billion of American currency on shrink-wrapped pallets that went missing from Iraq?

Of course not. It wasn’t on your channel.

Obama gave a fairly listless campaign speech masquerading as an official event in the solar fields of Boulder City.

The sun beat down on my head. I kept applying sun screen, and it occurred to me that this would be another election cycle with almost no dialogue or argument about global warming and what to do about it.

My statement about two companies having gone bad in the federal clean energy loan program is, as the Nixon Administration might say, "inoperative." I grabbed some reporting from last fall and new failures have emerged.

Here's The New York Times, reporting on a government audit released last month: "The audit, led by Herbert M. Allison Jr., a former financial executive and senior Treasury Department official, found that the government could lose as much as $3 billion of the total loan commitments so far of $24.3 billion granted to 30 companies under two Energy Department programs."

And here's CBS News reporting on other troubled companies in the program.

Still and all, a drop in the bucket compared to botched wars in the Middle East or tax subsidies for oil companies.

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