Some Renewable Energy Companies Fail, but That Doesn’t Mean Much

by Henry Kaplan | Jul 08, 2014 |

Following the Obama administration’s latest round of loan guarantees for renewable energy projects, Michael Grunwald has an essay in Time analyzing the loan guarantee program, and what it means after the Solyndra collapse.

Solyndra was a US solar panel manufacturer that received a lot of attention and press. It was given a $536 million loan by the DOE, only to go bankrupt in 2011 – a high profile failure for the government’s renewable energy efforts.

The failure of Solyndra, and a few other government-supported renewable energy companies, doesn’t mean the program doesn’t work, though, argues Grunwald:

Overall, though, the loan program has been remarkably successful. It has poured $32.4 billion into dozens of projects that will help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, including one of the world’s largest wind farms, a half dozen of the largest solar farms, the nation’s first commercial-scale cellulosic biofuel refineries, the nation’s first new nuclear power plants in three decades, and a factory where Tesla Motors builds electric vehicles that are shaking up the auto industry. It has also financed a few clunkers, including Solyndra and its fellow manufacturer Abound Solar, both victims of an unexpected plunge in solar-panel prices, as well as Fisker Motors, which made beautiful electric vehicles that didn’t sell.

But all lenders make some bad loans. And not every clean-energy firm that receives federal support can succeed in the marketplace; the hope is that some of them will use their government jump-start to beat the odds and change the world. As a White House official once said to me, some Pell Grant recipients become drunks on the streets. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t help low-income students attend college.

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