Obama’s Green ‘Investments’ Drown in Red Ink

Published August 9, 2012

“We’ll invest $15 billion a year over the next decade in renewable energy, creating five million new green jobs that pay well, can’t be outsourced, and help end our dependence on foreign oil,” candidate Barack Obama pledged in a November 1, 2008 radio address. 

Three years and eight months later, as unemployment has exceeded 8 percent for 41 straight months, Obama seems incapable of keeping this promise. With the worst employment figures since at least 1948, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics started measuring them, Obama has made a dog’s breakfast of jobs—green and otherwise.

Expensive Key Programs

Consider three key Department of Energy (DOE) programs. DOE’s website boasts that its “clean energy” initiatives—dubbed 1703, 1705, and Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM)—loaned $34.7 billion and launched “nearly 60,000” jobs. This totals a staggering $578,333 per position. 

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, private employers pay average workers $62,757 in wages and benefits. So, Obama is “creating jobs” at 922 percent of the private sector’s cost. Thus, for every green job that Obama supposedly spawns with taxpayer dollars and borrowed Chinese money, private enterprises could hire nine people.

Ten ‘Clean’ Failures

Obama touts green-energy “investments,” even though this is not his money to invest. Rather than choose winners and losers, which would be bad enough, Team Obama picks losers. It subsidized at least 10 “clean” companies that went kaput:

• Abound Solar consumed $70 million of its $400 million Energy Department loan guarantee. The Loveland, Colorado-based company blamed Chinese subsidy payments and European subsidy cuts for falling prices in its thin-film-panel sector. On July 2, Abound Solar filed for Chapter 7 liquidation and prepared to lock shop and fire its 125 employees.

• Solar Trust envisioned Earth’s largest solar power plant. DOE enthusiastically offered it a $2.1 billion loan guarantee in April 2011, provided that it raised private capital. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar attended the company’s Blythe, California groundbreaking and hailed “a historic moment in America’s new energy frontier.” Solar Trust missed DOE’s benchmarks, however, and announced Chapter 11 bankruptcy last April 2. 

• Energy Conversion Devices, a solar-laminate supplier, received a $13.3 million federal stimulus tax credit in January 2010 to update its Auburn Hills, Michigan factory and hire some 600 people. ECD declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy last Valentine’s Day.

• Ener1 received a $118.5 million DOE Stimulus grant in August 2009. Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Greenfield, Indiana to tour Ener1 on January 26, 2011. “Here at Ener1,” Biden said, “we’re going to harness electricity and bring it to the world, like Edison did more than a century ago.” The electric-car battery company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last January 26, exactly one year after Biden’s visit.

• Aptera Motors aspired to build three-wheel electric cars. DOE offered it a $150 million ATVM loan, conditioned on Aptera’s raising $150 million in nongovernment capital. Aptera never convinced private investors to finance glorified tricycles. So, last December 2, CEO Paul Wilber stated, “After years of focused effort to bring our products to the market, Aptera Motors is closing its doors, effective today.”

• Massachusetts-based Beacon Power Corp. received a $43 million loan guarantee in October 2010—DOE’s second such subsidy. The energy storage concern declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy on October 30, 2011. 

• Solyndra, the most notorious of Obama’s green-energy baubles, filed for bankruptcy on August 31, 2011. Taxpayers are liable for this solar-panel maker’s $535 million in loan guarantees—the first that DOE made under Obama.

Investments Weren’t Green

In death, Solyndra has proved to be anything but green. As San Francisco’s KCBS-TV reported last April, Solyndra’s Milpitas, California facility features metal drums marked “Hazardous Waste.” Cadmium, lead, unidentified black chemicals, and other toxins haunt the premises. A company called iStar said it would remove these poisons—as soon as Solyndra pays its bills.

Solyndra also discarded still-valuable solar panel components, even though selling them could have generated capital to reimburse it creditors, including America’s taxpayers.

Billions More Wasted

Other green failures:

• In June 2009, SpectraWatt scored a $500,000 grant from the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory PV Technology Pre-Incubator program and $150,000 from the National Science Foundation in June 2010. This solar cell manufacturer closed its Hopewell Junction, New York factory and dismissed all of its 117 workers in April 2011. SpectraWatt filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on August 19, 2011.  

• Raser Technologies received a $33 million Treasury Department Stimulus grant in February 2010. As its dreams of a geothermal plant in Beaver County, Utah turned to steam, its payroll subsequently evaporated from 42 workers to 27 to 10. Raser declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April 2011.

• Despite Mountain Plaza, Inc.’s 2003 bankruptcy, the EPA decided to inject $424,000 in Stimulus funds for that Tennessee company’s “truck-stop electrification” technology. Mountain Plaza again went bankrupt on June 3, 2010. EPA officially awarded those funds 12 days later, despite Mountain Plaza’s insolvency and a related lawsuit.

These doomed projects alone devoured $3.4 billion in taxpayer funds and commitments.

President Obama should beg taxpayers’ forgiveness for pouring their hard-earned cash down at least ten “green” rat holes.

Deroy Murdock is a Fox News contributor, a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service, and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. This column was originally published by National Review Online and is reprinted with the author’s permission.