Everybody likes the sun. The rays feel good and they’re free for everyone. Nobody likes the sun more than the promoters of solar electricity. These so-called “green energy companies,” however, are anything but free, and have collected, on average, $39 billion a year in federal subsidies in the six years and counting of the Obama administration. They haven’t produced enough electricity to match the glow of a lightning bug’s bottom.
A department of the federal government was established to promote and support solar energy, and this effort exploded with Mr. Obama’s stimulus plan, which put billions of dollars into renewable energy giveaways. By 2012, 20 different agencies allocated money to 345 solar energy initiatives, supporting more than 1,500 projects.
State and local governments joined in the parade, with subsidies and tax breaks to finance the latest big thing. By the reckoning of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, 43 different solar power-related tax breaks became available across 20 states. Eighteen states now maintain corporate tax credit and deduction programs for solar initiatives, and 14 states, along with Puerto Rico, offer taxpayer-funded grants to support solar electricity.”
Federal, state and local programs have been established to install solar-powered water heaters and rooftop solar panels, in turn intended to encourage production of solar electricity. In fact, a growing number of these subsidized solar projects are expensive boondoggles.
Solyndra is the most infamous of these. The California solar cell company went bankrupt not long after it received a $535 million taxpayer-guaranteed loan. More than a thousand workers lost their jobs and taxpayers were out a half-billion dollars.
Solyndra isn’t even the most expensive boondoggle. That distinction belongs to First Solar, a company that builds solar panels and operates solar farms. First Solar received more than $3 billion in stimulus loans in September 2011. By the following April it had laid off more than 2,100 workers and had sold many of its federal loan guarantees to third parties.
More recently, the Ivanpah solar power plant in the Mojave Desert has spent $1.6 billion in federal loans and grants and has very little to show for it beyond the charred remains of hundreds of thousands of birds that were killed from the scorching rays of its hundreds of thousands of giant mirrors. It has produced only 25 percent of the electricity it promised. Ivanpah, hemorrhaging red ink, now wants the federal government to delay payments on its loans, and has even asked for another $539 million to pay a previous federal loan.
The technology has so far delivered very little bang for the buck. Though solar energy companies have received more handouts and subsidies than any other source of electricity, the Energy Information Administration calculates that solar generates only 0.6 percent of U.S. electricity production.
The industry’s time in the sun may come, but not yet. Solar electricity is expensive, unreliable and a bad bet. For now, coal, oil and nuclear put the sun in the shade.