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Green energy more hype than help

It becomes clearer with each passing day that utility and environmental lobbyists in pursuit of taxpayer dollars have become more vital to the green energy sector’s future than scientists and engineers. Even the most committed environmentalist can’t escape the reality that green energy’s power is centered in politics, not physics.

Unfortunately, I think we can expect to discover more cases similar to that of Solyndra, a solar energy manufacturer. In 2010, California-based Solyndra was a solar energy supernova. President Obama visited Solyndra and said it was a shining example of the green jobs that renewable energy manufacturers could contribute to the economy. The administration poured $527 million of taxpayer money into Solyndra via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the stimulus package.

A little more than a year later, Solyndra is bankrupt and has laid off all but 100 of its 1,000-person green work force. A few days ago, FBI agents raided Solyndra’s offices and the homes of the company’s top executives as part of an ongoing investigation in conjunction with the Energy Department’s Inspector General. Today, Solyndra executives, as well as White House and Energy Department officials, are scheduled to testify before an investigative subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The FBI is tight-lipped about the subject of its investigation, but we’ve gotten a hint from the General Accounting Office, which criticized the Energy Department in July 2010 for significantly favoring certain applicants during the loan guarantee application process. The House investigative committee wants to look at possible ties between Solyndra and George Kaiser, a major fundraiser for the Democratic Party.

The financial collapse of Solyndra is not unique in the green energy sector. Solyndra is the third solar energy manufacturer since August to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Solyndra, SpectraWatt and Evergreen Solar have gone belly up because, in part, the world is awash in cheap solar panels the market doesn’t want. Chinese manufacturers have driven down the price of solar arrays by 42 percent, but that still hasn’t resulted in a significant increase in demand.

That’s the same problem facing the wind energy sector. Forbes has reported that General Electric, a leading manufacturer of wind-power turbines, is scaling back efforts to expand in the offshore wind-power market and has shelved plans for a manufacturing facility in Britain. According to Forbes’ William Pentland, GE has made the moves because there is no meaningful offshore wind market to speak of, thus far. Not to mention that massive turbines typically face massive local opposition from those who say they’re an eyesore and bird-killing machines.

The company has shifted its attention to deep-water turbines, which received additional funding support from – you guessed it – taxpayers via the U.S. Department of Energy. I doubt deepwater wind generation will fare any better than offshore wind or solar energy. Even if deepwater turbines produce energy far out at sea, it’s going to cost a mint to transport that electricity to shore where people can use it.

And so it goes with green energy.

The emerging questions enveloping Solyndra are a warning of what can happen when an economic sector becomes a political favorite. It’s too soon to tell, but critics of the Obama administration say its support of Solyndra was based more on building political capital among its base than bolstering the nation’s energy supply.

GE’s scaling back of offshore wind demonstrates there is no feasible market for green energy outside publicly funded research projects and generation built primarily to satisfy government-mandated requirements for utilities. How much more public money will be wasted before we acknowledge that the hype propelling green energy is unsustainable?

If conservatives can be criticized for ignoring the science with regard to man’s effect on global climate change, progressive environmentalists are equally guilty when it comes to the energy potential of wind, solar and biomass. Neither the physics nor the market is there, and the sooner we accept it, the sooner we can engage in more viable forms of energy production.