Will Media Now Admit They Were Wrong on “Solyndra Scandal,” DOE Clean Energy Loan Program?

November 13th, 2014

How can any of us forget the breathless media coverage over the supposedly failed Department of Energy renewable energy loan program and the non-scandal “Solyndra scandal?” For instance, Media Matters reminds us:

The media’s coverage of the DOE’s loan program over the past few years has been overwhelmingly negativeand often egregiously misinformed. Coverage frequently focused on Solyndra, a solar panel manufacturer that received a $535 million federal loan guarantee before going bankrupt in 2011, suggesting the company’s fate was representative of the program’s success as a whole.

The Washington Post gave particularly outsized coverage to the Solyndra bankruptcy, devoting an entire section of its website to the so-called “Solyndra Scandal.”…

At CBS News, then-correspondent Sharyl Attkisson issued a report on Solyndra that was rife with factual errors. The report helped earn Attkisson an award from Accuracy In Media, a conservative organizationknown for pushing anti-gay misinformation and bizarre conspiracy theories. CBS subsequently pulledAttkisson from a planned appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to accept the award.

Fox News demonized DOE loan programs at every turn, criticizing even companies who received no funds at all from the guarantee program.

Well, now it turns out that all of this was not just slightly erroneous, but wildly false. In fact, it turns out that DOE has “loaned $34.2 billion to a variety of businesses, under a program designed to speed up development of clean-energy technology,” while collecting enough in interest payments to offset the miniscule (2.28 percent) default rate, leaving the program with an overall surplus to taxpayers of $30 million.  Which means that the DOE loan program basically helped jump start the U.S. cleantech industry (e.g., Media Matters points to “DOE’s role in the success of the electric car company Tesla Motors,” which actually “has a higher success rate than venture capitalists”) at a net profit to taxpayers.

Yet, despite this huge success story, in much of the media all we’ve heard has been “scandal,” “failure,” “picking winners and losers,” and other nonsensical, fossil fuel industry talking points.  Now that the media’s entire narrative has unraveled, the question is, to quote Media Matters,  whether “after years of breathless negative coverage…these media outlets will provide a more prominent a platform to inform media consumers of evidence that counters their previous narrative?” Personally, I’m not holding my breath.

UPDATE: Actually, make that a $5-$6 billion profit off the DOE loan program over the next 20-25 years.

Five Energy Stories Worth Reading Today (11/13/14)

November 13th, 2014

Here are five recommended reads for today (11/13/14).

  1. NPR reports: “A joint investigation by NPR and Mine Safety and Health News found that thousands of mine operators fail to pay safety penalties, even as they continue to manage dangerous — and sometimes deadly — mining operations. Most unpaid penalties are between two and 10 years overdue; some go back two decades. And federal regulators seem unable or unwilling to make mine owners pay.”
  2. According to Greentech Media: “The world’s biggest battery is coming to California. Last week, Southern California Edison (SCE) revealed the winners of a massive 250-megawatt energy storage procurement round, one that could set new standards for incorporating distributed and customer-owned energy assets into grid operations. The procurement represents a potential turning point for utilities.”
  3. The San Francisco Chronicle reports, “Another day, another ‘historic’ agreement reached between the United States and China, this one of considerable interest to the Bay Area’s solar power industry.”
  4. According to the Wall Street Journal, “White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday that the president would veto a Keystone approval bill, saying the president takes a ‘dim view’ of legislation overriding the State Department’s review process.”
  5. Reuters reports, “The controversial government program that funded failed solar company Solyndra, and became a lighting rod in the 2012 presidential election, is officially in the black.”

IEA: Fossil Fuels Get $550 Billion/Year in Subsidies, 4x More than Clean Energy

November 12th, 2014

Need any more evidence that fossil fuels are heavily subsidized, putting clean energy at a competitive disadvantage due to governments tilting the playing field heavily in favor of coal, oil, and natural gas?  Here you go.

Fossil fuels are reaping $550 billion a year in subsidies and holding back investment in cleaner forms of energy, the International Energy Agency said.

Oil, coal and gas received more than four times the $120 billion paid out in incentives for renewables including wind, solar and biofuels, the Paris-based institution said today in its annual World Energy Outlook.

Next time you hear a cleantech basher or fossil fuel flack talking about how government shouldn’t “pick winners and losers,” point them right here.

Historic Climate Deal Highlights Extent to Which China is Rapidly Scaling Green Energy

November 12th, 2014

One of the best takes I’ve read so far today on the U.S.-China deal to rein in greenhouse gas emissions comes from, not surprisingly, Stephen Lacey at Greentech Media. The headline and subheading of Lacey’s article really say it nicely: “Historic US-China Climate Deal Is a Sign of Clean Energy’s Growing Political Strength: China’s willingness to adopt emissions targets reflects its confidence in non-fossil energy.” That’s right; even as climate change deniers and cleantech bashers love to claim that China is doing nothing, in fact it is moving quickly to scale clean energy. How fast? According to the Washington Post article on this historic breakthrough:

China’s announcement is the culmination of years of change in attitudes among Chinese now fed up with dire levels of pollution that a study in the British medical journal the Lancet blamed for 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010 alone. China has cap-and-trade pilot programs in five provinces and eight cities. It is also the world’s largest investor in solar and wind energy.

Moreover, it has barred coal-plant construction in some regions. Such construction has dropped from more than 90 gigawatts in 2006 to 36.5 gigawatts in 2013, according to the World Resources Institute.

The results of China’s sea change in energy policy are there for everyone to see. As Stephen Lacey explains:

China already has plans to get 50 gigawatts of nuclear, 70 gigawatts of solar, 150 gigawatts of wind and 330 gigawatts of hydro installed in the next few years. The new target, while not groundbreaking, would open up the opportunity for China to support nearly a terawatt of additional nuclear and renewable energy capacity.

Seven years ago, when China became the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, there were few signs that the country would slow its rate of coal-burning. The country is still by far the world’s largest user of coal, accounting for roughly 50 percent of global consumption.

But a confluence of factors has shifted China’s outlook on coal. Domestic backlash against air pollution, growing water scarcity problems, international political pressure and the competitiveness of renewables have all come together to make China more willing to wean itself off coal. In August, China’s coal consumption dropped for the first time in a decade.

One point that can’t be emphasized enough is how dramatically the cost of solar, wind and other renewables has plummeted in recent years. For instance, check out this analysis by Lazard – one of the world’s top financial asset management and advisory firms – which finds that the “levelized cost” of energy efficiency and onshore wind is already lower than for new coal-fired power plants. And, as Lazard illustrates graphically, the costs of wind and solar are on a steep downward trajectory that is expected to continue indefinitely, meaning that the economics of clean energy will only get better and better as time goes by. In turn, that strongly implies a rapid scaling of wind and solar, purely on economic grounds alone, not even factoring in the huge environmental benefits of clean, green energy. Now, the big question is which nation — China? the US? others? — will dominate the enormous market for renewable power in the 21st century?

Five Energy Stories Worth Reading Today (11/12/14)

November 12th, 2014

Here are five recommended reads for today (11/12/14).

  1. Mother Jones reports, “In a surprise announcement Tuesday night, the world’s two biggest economies and greenhouse gas emitters, United States and China, said they will partner closely on a broad-ranging package of plans to fight climate change, including new targets to reduce carbon pollution, according to a statement from the White House.”
  2. According to Bloomberg, “Senate Democrats are looking at taking a vote in the lame-duck session that starts today to force approval of TransCanada Corp. (TRP)’s Keystone XL pipeline, a party aide said, a move that may bolster Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu’s re-election chances.”
  3. Politico reports: “Tied to court-ordered deadlines, legal mandates and international climate talks, the efforts scheduled for the next two months show that President Barack Obama is prepared to spend the remainder of his term unleashing sweeping executive actions to combat global warming. And incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will have few options for stopping the onslaught, though Republicans may be able to slow pieces of it.”
  4. According to Inside Climate News, “Over 40 percent of frac sand producers in Wisconsin have broken state environmental rules in recent years, according to a new report.”
  5. Fuel Fix reports, “Fossil fuels are reaping $550 billion a year in subsidies and holding back investment in cleaner forms of energy, the International Energy Agency said.”