Viewpoints: Solar merits subsidies – just like other energy sources

By Peter Asmus  |  Sacramento Bee /  | Link to article

“What the federal government should not do is be in the business of picking winners and losers,” proclaims John Boehner, GOP speaker of the House of Representatives. “For the federal government to be out there picking one company over another, one type of energy sources over another I think is wrong.”

What prompted this espousing of free-market rhetoric so popular with the tea party crowd?

A solar company from Fremont in the East Bay named Solyndra. When the company defaulted on a $535 million loan guarantee in September, the company suddenly became a prime political target for the right wing. Republicans made the company the poster child of failed Obama administration’s stimulus programs to create green jobs. Oddly enough, Boehner was less concerned about a similar type of loan guarantee of much larger magnitude – $2 billion – for a nuclear processing facility located in his home state. If all goes well with that government handout, the U.S. government will get back $100,000 in royalties.

Solyndra represented only a small fraction – 2.8 percent – of the total federal loan guarantee portfolio steered toward renewables. Let’s put this bankruptcy in proper context. What did the $2.5 billion that the loan guarantee program cost net for the U.S. taxpayer? It has already generated almost $19 billion in private capital flowing to retool our energy economy and create thousands of jobs during a recession.

The truth is, Republicans and Democrats have long steered government subsidies in an incredible array of formats toward every single energy source imaginable, stretching all the way back to global whale oil operations run by the Quakers in New England in the 18th century.

When it comes to nuclear power, there will always be a continuing role for government safety and liability protections. It will never, ever be able to compete in a market without direct government involvement. Have you ever heard of the Price Anderson Act? (full article)