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image of President Obama visits to a wind turbine factory
President Obama visits a wind turbine factory
A couple of my conservative friends post on Facebook with glee every time a green energy company that received government loans fails or if the Chevy Volt has problems. They are against spending any tax payer money on research or production of technology that will free us from a dying petroleum based energy system. They are missing the point. The failure of specific companies doesn't mean the technology is faulty. Government support for innovation of technology is actually a common practice and is one reason we enjoy some of the things we have in our lives like computers. It would also strengthen our country against the evildoers.

One of my conservative friends posted me a link to this article:

It is no secret that President Obama's and green-energy supporters' (from both parties) foray into venture capitalism has not gone well. But the extent of its failure has been largely ignored by the press. Sure, single instances garner attention as they happen, but they ignore past failures in order to make it seem like a rare case.

The truth is that the problem is widespread. The government's picking winners and losers in the energy market has cost taxpayers billions of dollars, and the rate of failure, cronyism, and corruption at the companies receiving the subsidies is substantial. The fact that some companies are not under financial duress does not make the policy a success. It simply means that our taxpayer dollars subsidized companies that would've found the financial support in the private market.

President Obama's Taxpayer-Backed Green Energy Failures

Contrary to my conservative friend's belief, just because some green energy businesses have failed doesn't mean the technology is faulty.

Government support for green energy is a good thing due to climate change and we reportedly reached peak oil in 2006. That means we will see higher costs to produce oil and that will trickle down to all finished goods made with oil like plastic and increase transportation costs of goods like food. Any country that is dependent on resources outside its borders is vulnerable so research on green energy is a matter of economic health and national security.

In 2008 the United States imported oil from 10 countries currently on the State Department's Travel Warning List, which lists countries that have "long-term, protracted conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable." These nations include Algeria, Chad, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. Our reliance on oil from these countries could have serious implications for our national security, economy, and environment.

Oil Dependence Is a Dangerous Habit

Innovation in the green energy industry is still in the young stage and would benefit from government backing. Conservatives seem to believe that a technology isn't viable unless it can be sustained by the "market". History shows that this idea is wrong.

One huge example is semiconductors. Government funding led to the technology you are using to read this post right now:

The federal government contributed over half of all R&D funds [for the microelectronics industry] until well into the 1970's. The military in turn accounted for the greatest proportion of federal R&D expenditures in the industry for some time after the war (WWII). In only one year, 1966, did the military's portion of the federal R&D spending fall below 50%

By creating, supporting, and disseminating diverse approaches to the technical innovation in semiconductor microelectronics, government agencies were extremely important in the overall development of the microelectronics industry.

Government Support of the Semiconductor Industry

Also from the 40's through the 60's there was a battle between what form microelectronics would take - modular, thin-film, molecular, and integrated. But ironically while integrated circuits became the dominate form, the other forms also could be applied to the integrated format.

Back then the government picked a lot of winners and losers and no one complained. There was not a consumer market for semiconductors like we have now. Imagine if the conservative thinking today was around back in the early days of semiconductors. Would we even have computers we have now? I doubt it.

We need to go full go on government support of green energy development much like we did for the atom bomb, putting a man on the moon, and the arms build up during the cold war. Sure there will be some failures but the point is the long term solution and that takes investment.

For those conservatives who think any investment should be based on a strong business plan I just need to mention the dotcom bubble of the 1990's when billions of dollars were spent on startups who's only accomplishment was having expensive furniture in their loft offices.

Government funding could help unleash the power of our R&D as it has in the past and finally break us of our dependence on fossil fuels. If that happens then no country could touch us.

Why do conservatives fear energy independence?

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Comment Preferences

  •  Fed Govt should focus on Pure Science at the.... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    radical simplicity

    ....university level.

    Best thing that could happen to green energy is for a battery breakthrough.  And a battery breakthrough is most likely in a university lab.

    The federal government does itself no favors redistributing income from the very poor to the very rich, as it does via its direct and indirect subsidies to a certain automobile company run by a wannabe messiah figure.  

    I still can't understand how Kossacks, purportedly concerned about income inequality, can support a transfer of income from a struggling working class family in East LA to Larry Ellison, so that he can knock off 10k dollars (7.5k federal +2.5 state) off the price of a 100k sports
    car.

    Pure Science?  The government should quadruple support.

    Sports cars that require a transfer of income from the poor to the wealthy?  Should not happen.

    Learn about Centrist Economics, learn about Robert Rubin's Hamilton Project. www.hamiltonproject.org

    by PatriciaVa on Fri Oct 19, 2012 at 09:08:48 AM PDT

    •  I agree about pure research (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      PatriciaVa, nzanne

      ... but we also need some investment on the other side.

      A huge percentage of the problem with getting new tech to market is the "adoption gap" - that space between evangelists & early adopters (who combined, comprise about 5% of most markets), and the entire rest of the public. The first two groups will adopt a new tech because it's cool, or exciting, or whatever. They're willing to take the risk of failing because they can afford it, or because they strongly believe it won't fail.

      Everyone else is waiting to see the tech in action before taking a risk. Until a critical mass of the "interested fence-sitters" see something in action, they aren't willing to try it. Thus, we need demonstration vehicles out there.

      Yes, they're expensive, but part of that is the problem of economies of scale - when you don't have an existing, proven market, you would be insane to try produce at a scale that will bring the per-part price down, thus the price is high.  Hybrids were ridiculously expensive when they first hit the market, even though most of the car is the same as a conventional car.  Now, they're in the same price neighborhood as other cars targeted toward the middle class.

      With oil company propagandists working full time to generate as much inertia as possible among those on the "far" side of the EV adoption gap, it's more important to help bring demo models to market.

      We do need new battery tech, and people are working feverishly toward that end. I agree we should dump a TON of money into it - as a hybrid owner with a 10 year old battery pack on its last legs after 250k miles, I'd LOVE a new battery that will last even longer, charge even faster, and provide even more of the energy needed to move my car. I drool over the Nissan LEAF, but until the battery tech takes the next leap, it's not an appropriate car for winter mountain driving (the long, steep climbs would drain the battery pack to the point where it would be damaged).

  •  You cannot criticize green energy subsidies (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cadfile, nzanne, goobop

    when we're still subsidizing the oil industry that is awash in record profits and has no need for the money.

    This isn't about the free market being left to do its thing -- if it was, the subsidies to fossil fuel industries would have ended a long time ago.

    The GOP does not financially benefit from the green energy sector -- instead the GOP is heavily backed by fossil fuel industries. Unless the green energy sector suddenly starts putting Republicans in office, I doubt it will ever find anything but attacks from the Right.

    Dems need to do a better job of embarrassing Republicans for attacking clean home-grown energy and the jobs that it creates. The GOP is always talking about making America energy independent -- it should cost them politically for not supporting home-grown green energy.

    Refuge Watch -- news from America's national wildlife refuges

    by Naturegal on Fri Oct 19, 2012 at 09:21:30 AM PDT

    •  Very good point (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      radical simplicity

      You bring up a very good point. Wish I could've worked it in to my diary

    •  $30 million a day is what oil industry (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      radical simplicity

      alone is still receiving in subsidies (tax breaks, drilling incentives, etc).

      "I can't do it by myself. No president can. Remember: Change doesn't happen from the top. It happens because of you." B Obama, 2008

      by nzanne on Fri Oct 19, 2012 at 10:19:32 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Amplified comments: (0+ / 0-)
        In 2010, the U.S. Energy Information Administration compared subsidies for the various
        segments (from The Arizona Republic; May 5, 2012):
        • Coal got about $1.4 billion in direct subsidies, mostly for research and in tax incentives.
        • Natural gas and petroleum got $2.82 billion, nearly all from tax incentives and none from the federal stimulus act.
        • Biofuels got $6.6 billion, mostly in tax credits.
        • Nuclear got $2.5 billion, mostly in research and development and tax incentives.
        • Wind got $4.99 billion, nearly all tied to the stimulus.
        • Biomass got 1.17 billion, split about evenly between tax incentives and research and development.
        • Geothermal got $273 million, mostly tied to the stimulus.
        • Solar got $1.13 billion, most in direct funding, and about 70 percent of which was tied to the federal stimulus act.
        from this link, read today.

        "I can't do it by myself. No president can. Remember: Change doesn't happen from the top. It happens because of you." B Obama, 2008

        by nzanne on Fri Oct 19, 2012 at 10:29:00 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I'm anti-Green. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    PatriciaVa

    Well, I'm not entirely anti-Green. There obviously is a need for "green" renewable energy, without which we soon go the way of the dinosaurs.
    But, for the most part the "green movement" is a one-way street. It's kinda like the 1% vs. the 99%. The 1% rule. The 99% eat cake. Same with the "green movement." "Green" gets everything at the expense of the rest of us.
    When that equation changes, when I as a "green consumer" get more bang for my buck and my effort, then I'll become more of a "green" fan. Until that equation changes "green" will continue to fail. When "green" becomes competitive with the non-renewables "green" will then become something that at least is approachable. Until then, until "green" stops relying on my unpaid labor to make them a viable option they won't be. When the equation changes that takes my unpaid labor out of the equation then they're onto something!
    Until then... not so much.

    •  The changing green landscape (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      nzanne, winkk

      Could you elaborate on your unpaid labor? I don't understand what you're referring to.

      In the mean time:

      In many states, with solar subsidies and rebates, solar is on par with regular electric rates. And panel prices are expected to drop again, by somewhere between 30 and 50% by the end of the year.

      That'll make a roughly 80% price drop in the last 7 years. Since half of the cost of solar is in the installation, that 80% panel cost reduction brings what was a $20k installation 7 years ago down to ~$12k today. It's hard to buy a used car at that price, but now you can buy all the electricity you'll use for the next 30 years.

      The average US family spends$163/month on electricity. Over 30 years, assuming prices don't rise (heh), that works out to $58,000, which means you can spend $12k today to buy $58k worth of electricity.

      Add companies like SunRun into the mix, where you lease the solar panels for the same monthly payment as your current electric bill (most are paid off w/in 5 - 7 years), you're looking at a perfectly approachable technology right now.

      Even better, in communities with PACE funding (property-assessed clean energy), where you pay for your clean energy system as part of your property tax bill, your electrical costs become tax deductible, and you only pay toward the system while you own the house, passing the bill to the new owner when you sell. And homes with solar PV are selling at a premium over the same house in the same market w/o PV - generally at a profit over the cost of the PV system.  At this point, at least in states w/decent programs, PV is about the best investment you can make.

      Subsidies for green tech have a HUGE impact on affordability.

      •  Actually, (0+ / 0-)

        I'm not so sure about this:

        And panel prices are expected to drop again, by somewhere between 30 and 50% by the end of the year.
        We're at .68/w to .72/w wholesale right now; many of us believe that manufacturers will begin to just sit on product rather than sell at such a loss. Have you heard differently?

        "I can't do it by myself. No president can. Remember: Change doesn't happen from the top. It happens because of you." B Obama, 2008

        by nzanne on Fri Oct 19, 2012 at 10:25:36 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I've seen a couple of stories in the last week (0+ / 0-)

          This is one:

          http://cleantechnica.com/...

          I can't remember where I saw the other, and don't have much time to dig at the moment.

          If the wholesalers were more of a monopoly, I could see them sitting on panels, but that portion of the market is still too dispersed to prevent one wholesaler or another from deciding to pursue large volume discounts by undercutting everyone else, to take advantage of the lower prices coming in from overseas.  Until there's more consolidation in the wholesale market, the only thing I see slowing the price war would be tariffs. I am seeing talk of imposing some anti-dumping tariffs, but that's going to take months, at least, so for the time being, it seems prices will continue to drop.

      •  This comment is correct though: (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        radical simplicity
        And homes with solar PV are selling at a premium over the same house in the same market w/o PV - generally at a profit over the cost of the PV system.
        Studies in SCE (Southern Cal Edison) territory indicate a 14-17% increase in home value for those w/ solar PV.

        "I can't do it by myself. No president can. Remember: Change doesn't happen from the top. It happens because of you." B Obama, 2008

        by nzanne on Fri Oct 19, 2012 at 10:26:52 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  I'm off to an #Occupy event, (0+ / 0-)

        then bowling [ugh].  But, will get back to this...

    •  Winkk - you obviously don't want to be (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      radical simplicity

      an 'early adopter.' Luckily, you already missed the first wave. As RadicalSimp just noted, prices for solar PV have plummeted in the past several years. A study in 2010 showed that RE was actually cheaper than nuclear, especially when you add in the long term safety issues.

      Depending on where you live in the country and what your energy needs are, you could definitely benefit from going green. We have clients - ag clients - who break even in 5 years and get 20 additional years of electricity 'free'.

      "I can't do it by myself. No president can. Remember: Change doesn't happen from the top. It happens because of you." B Obama, 2008

      by nzanne on Fri Oct 19, 2012 at 10:23:56 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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