July 19 2012

Another Green Energy Plant Goes Belly Up on the Taxpayers’ Dime

Vicki E. Alger

One year and more than $20 million in federal tax credits and grants later the Amonix solar manufacturing plant in North Las Vegas has closed. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports:

Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., and Gov. Brian Sandoval were among the political leaders who lauded the company when it announced it would start making solar panels in the Golden Triangle Industrial Park. Reid in particular has pushed for solar energy research and development in Nevada, drawing parallels between the value of Nevada sunshine and Saudi Arabian oil. … Department of Energy press secretary Jen Stutsman noted that the project had bipartisan support from elected officials, including Republicans Sandoval and North Las Vegas Mayor Shari Buck.

Amonix was selected for a grant under the Bush administration's Department of Energy in 2007 and eventually received a total of $15.6 million under the grant, she said.

Sen. Reid attributed the closure in large part to the tragic death last year of Amonix CEO Brian Robert­son, who was killed in a plane crash. But there are industry-wide issues to consider:

The global solar industry is facing significant challenges that are impacting solar manufacturers worldwide," Stutsman said Wednesday from Washing­ton. … Amonix isn't the only solar company to go under after receiving an infusion of federal capital.

California-based Solyndra filed for bankruptcy last year after receiving $535 million in federal loan guarantees from the Obama administration. Colorado-based Abound Solar, which received a $70 million loan guaranteed by the Energy Department, filed for bankruptcy in June, succumbing to intense competition from China that has sharply driven down the cost of solar panels, chairman Thomas Tiller said in a Reuters news article.

Today the House Energy and Commerce Committee will be voting on the No More Solyndras Act. As the Wall Street Journal explains:

This [act] would defund the Energy Department loan guarantee program. But some Republicans are teaming up with Democrats to save the subsidies for wind, solar, nuclear and advanced coal projects that are in their own backyards.

Republicans Joe Barton and Michael Burgess of Texas and Phil Gingrey of Georgia have defended this politicized venture capital operation. Messrs. Burgess and Gingrey didn't return our calls, but Mr. Gingrey said in one hearing that "I'm not ready to say we should throw the baby out with the bathwater and just eliminate the loan programs entirely." If not after four years of $1 trillion deficits, when? Mr. Barton has been one of the staunchest advocates of the subsidies and he told Politico last week: "I don't think we need to throw out the whole program. I think we can clean it up."

Clean it up? He'll need a bigger hose. The program began in the late, not-so-great days of the Bush Administration. Since March 2009, DOE has received $47 billion in loan guarantee authority, and three of the first five companies receiving guarantees have already gone belly up, including Abound Solar, Beacon Power and Solyndra.

Bloomberg reports that half the solar companies that have received loan guarantees have gone bankrupt. Renewable energy deserves every chance to compete in the open marketplace backed by private investors. But DOE's taxpayer bet on alternative energy is looking steadily worse over time, as abundant natural gas for electricity generation is making renewable energy less competitive even with subsidies

Republicans will be fiscal frauds if they renew the very money-losing energy programs they attacked Barack Obama for. When the next Solyndra goes bankrupt, voters will have more than Mr. Obama to blame.

With this kind of track record it’s time to stop bankrolling government’s bad bets.

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