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FEULNER: Renewable red ink

When Uncle Sam needs to fund an industry, you know it’s a loser

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Think we could use 5 million new jobs right about now? That's what President Obama promised he'd create by "investing" taxpayer money in "green" jobs. And not just any jobs, he said on the campaign trail in 2008, but ones that "pay well and can never be outsourced."

Jump ahead three years, and the only green you find is the billions being poured into the coffers of renewable-energy companies lucky to even stay in business, let alone create a high number of jobs.

Don't assume what happened to the solar-panel company Solyndra is unique. Its high-profile bankruptcy is basically the green-jobs fallacy writ large.

Consider how these subsidized companies are funded. Are anxious investors ready to shower dollars on wind and solar power because there's great potential to make more money in this promising field? That's how companies get off the ground - and stay there: They attract entrepreneurs who see the chance to make money and are glad to invest.

Companies such as Solyndra, by contrast, apparently can't get by without money confiscated from you and me. (For that matter, they can't even get by with it.) That should tell you something about how viable their product is.

There's a reason I put quotation marks around the word "investing" above. It's a misnomer. The president and other green-jobs proponents use it because it implies we'll see a return on our money - a return that has so far proved to be an illusion.

Green jobs are few in number, and they're costly. "The president's own Council of Economic Advisers admitted recently that only 225,000 clean-energy jobs were either created or saved and cost the taxpayer $355,000 per job," Thomas Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, writes in U.S. News & World Report.

The green lobby also claims that energy regulations can reduce unemployment. More people have to be hired to help companies comply with the regs, right? But they're overlooking the way the added costs wind up being passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices. And energy companies are not the only ones doing this; other industries are as well. Almost every product we use, after all, is made using some form of energy.

Remember, too, that government spending has to come from somewhere. Money that likely would have been put to a more productive use has been funneled to a politically favored industry. As energy expert Nicolas Loris notes, "When the government gives money to build a windmill, those resources cannot simultaneously be used to build other products."

Simply put, the government is picking winners and losers. Or trying to, at least; the government record on such efforts is, well, a losing one.

We saw it when President Carter was in office. The "investment" he made in a fruitless quest to create synthetic fuels proved an expensive failure. The same dynamic is at work today when Mr. Obama gives taxpayer funds to companies such as Solyndra. Good intentions are no substitute for a sound business plan.

Some will still argue that renewable energy is a worthwhile goal, but it has to be renewable energy that works. And if the potential to make money is there, private funds will follow and subsidies won't be necessary. The fact that they are tells you a lot about the real job-creating potential of renewable energy.

A new report from the House Budget Committee sums up the situation: "The government-as-investor model distorts markets, weakens the rule of law, wastes taxpayer dollars, and fails to spur sustainable job creation."

So why are we allowing the green agenda to drive us further into the red?

Ed Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).

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