Where We Should Put Government "Green Energy" Money

ARPA-E was founded in during the Bush Administration but not funded. One of the few promising parts of the Obama stimulus was funding for ARPA -E. Unfortunately, it was funded at only $400 million, less than the money the Obama folks threw away at one failed solar energy firm, Solyndra.

ARPA - E is modeled on DARPA, which gave us the start of such nice little things like the Internet. Like DARPA, ARPA-E is not vexed by the usual government rules, including things like Davis-Bacon. Also like DARPA, ARPA -E works on actual science and technology w/o particular regard to current political priorities. It funds research into high-risk, but potentially promising technologies that are unlikely to interest private investors. Most of these things will fail, but the winners can be shared widely. In other words both the risk and the rewards go to the American nation.

This impartiality means that it is the kind of government program I like and that politicians claim they like, but don't really. That probably explains why APRA -E got less than one firm like Solyndra, despite a climate where the Obama folks spent more than ever before and claimed to be in favor of alternative energy.

Here is something we can probably agree about. Let's not try to pick winners and losers in the energy future. Let's not give cash and loan guarantees to particular firms that create private profits at government expense. Let's instead take the same money we would have spent on all this crap and put it into ARPA -E. It won't help politicians get elected in 2012, but it may give us the beginning of an energy internet.

No matter what, results will have to be better than the "never green" technologies developed with all that cash we have dropped so far.

Posted by Christine & John at September 26, 2011 8:29 PM
Comments
Comment #329813

Your people, that is the Republicans, believe so much in ARPA-E, that they are willing to change it’s budget by eighty percent.

Or should I say, cut it by four-fifths.

It’s no use portraying your people as riding to the rescue of true green technology if they’re going to be so aggressively opposed to it.

Your people don’t want an alternative to the status quo. The pattern of their cuts, proposed or otherwise, demonstrates this.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 26, 2011 9:23 PM
Comment #329814

And more to the point, your people seem in no mood to stop picking fossil fuel companies as winners. They’re not even willing to research different approaches. They are aggressively taking the side of these companies, even when they make disastrous mistakes, like with Deepwater Horizon.

As long as that is true, and as long as our interests remain in breaking our addiction to the inherently limited supplies of petroleum, I think we should shift the government’s weight towards supporting better energy options that are renewable, carbon neutral or better, and/or come from inexhaustible sources.

It won’t be easy, so there’s no point in waiting for everything to be perfect. Most challenges are best tackled as a series of problems, or sets of problems, that are resolved as the product works out on the market.

Not every company we support will be successful or survive, but that’s life.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 26, 2011 9:29 PM
Comment #329815

Stephen

I think we should take the money from the failed “green energy” loan guarantees etc and give it to ARPA -E. That is what “my people” think and it is what I am saying.

Do you agree or not?

Posted by: C&J at September 26, 2011 9:30 PM
Comment #329816

Stephen

re your second post - why not give the money to something like ARPA-E instead of the various firms? That way if the technology is a winner, all can benefit (as with Internet). If it fails, then we are no worse off than with Solyndra and we have the benefit of the experience that went into the venture.

re petroleum - I think we need to figure out alternatives for environmental reasons. The argument that we are running out just doesn’t work. At some point we will run out of oil at acceptable prices, but not today and not tomorrow. And before we run out, we will have moved on.

If you listen to NPR, you found out about the game-changing technologies.

“The US … could have 2 trillion barrels of oil waiting to be drilled. South America could hold another 2 trillion. And Canada? 2.4 trillion. That’s compared to just 1.2 trillion in the Middle East and north Africa.”
http://www.npr.org/2011/09/25/140784004/new-boom-reshapes-oil-world-rocks-north-dakota

I have heard about running out of oil my whole life. The day of reckoning is always about ten years off … and evidently always will be.

Posted by: C&J at September 26, 2011 9:40 PM
Comment #329818

C&J-
However many barrels you drill up, they’ll never come back, and the CO2 it puts up there won’t be going anywhere for thousands of years.

You have to realize that there is a dynamic balance in place here, first and foremost. The Bakken Formation, required horizontal drilling and fracking to be productive, and much of its reserves are locked up in the Shale rock which isn’t all that porous. So, it’s more difficult than ordinary oil to get up, even before you start using oil shale techniques to recover the fossil fuels.

That means greater expense. That means that the oil is only economical to recover so long as prices remain high. When prices go lower than a certain level, an ironic constriction of recoverable reserves occurs.

Ah, but the easy stuff dries up. Even if the Wall Street Energy traders who the Bush Administration kindly enabled were kept from bottling up the supply in different places, like Cushing Oklahoma or in oil tankers sent on never-ending voyages, that product would be consumed, and all by itself, those reserves would be gone in a year.

Up in smoke, you could say. As for Solyndra, an interesting opinion piece by Westinghouse Solar CEO, Barry Cinammon says that the companies main problem is that it’s business model revolved around a cheaper way of making the silicon in the panels. Unfortunately, their cheaper silicon was overtaken both by foreign and domestic manufacturers. Westinghouse Solar, indeed, is putting its money where it’s mouth is, building kits for installing solar panels on roofs for less money.

Technology like that behind solar panels benefits from the fact that it is manufactured much the way chips are. Of course, Chip makers have gotten much, much better at their jobs, at engineering materials and everything.

Solyndra doesn’t tell us solar failed, Solyndra tells us that the rest of the industry left Solyndra, with its formerly low-cost alternative in the dust. That is to say, efficiency and cost effectiveness of other panels and processes got better faster.

The reserves you crow about with require greater and more expensive technology to find oil that is heavier and more sour - that is, choked with impurities. It’s not for nothing that folks like light, sweet crude. It’s easiest on the refineries.

It’s also a fairly difficult kind of oil to extract, the stuff that they’re talking about when they speak of two trillion barrels in reserves. You have to bake the rock in an oxygen poor environment at hundreds of degrees Fahrenheit. You need oxygen poor, of course, because the hydrocarbons in the oil shale will burn otherwise.

Plus, we’re getting into fracking here, which I don’t think is ever a process that you can make safe for the environment, and I’ll tell you why: bouyancy.

Go take a look at those simple illustrations of oil wells. Very often, you’ll see an arched formation of rock, and below it, the reserve. The rock above is impermeable, and it’s very important for that well, because of the fact that oil and natural gas, left to themselves, want to move upwards in the porous rock, often filled with brine.

Fracking deals with varietie of impermeable rock which otherwise present a barrier to the flow of that oil and gas. The well you drill counts on the pressure that the rock above and the gas puts on the oil to push it up. But that pressure also counts on the non-porous overlaying formation to keep the oil and gas contained.

Fracking, not to put too fine a point on it, breaks the rock that serves as a barrier to oil and gas flowing upwards. So, even if you’ve got a hell of a lot of rock over the top of that oil formation, if you break it up, and the cracks in the rock extend towards the permeable rock, well that stuff can float as far up as it’s bouyancy will let it.

Groundwater is a much more precious resource in the long run, than oil is.

If this is what you want to stake your future on, be my guest. I’m going for much more manageable environmental concerns, like making sure a factory recovers toxic chemicals and processes them properly. That’s a lot easier to achieve topside, than resealing fracked rock once it’s broken.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 26, 2011 10:33 PM
Comment #329823

Stephen

As I said, there are environmental challenges to oil and gas production. There is no such thing as a really green form of energy.

I was simply saying that your idea that we will run out of oil any time soon is a bit primitive and anti-scientific. Indeed at today’s levels of technology we could run out soon. Using the technology of the 1960s, we would already have run out. But people are clever and do not stop thinking, as you suggest they might.

Re Solyndra - I believe we will indeed develop alternatives energy. We have many times before until the “alternative” becomes the standard.


My problem was with the corrupting method of encouraging firms like Solyndra. That is why I proposed the alternative method for government to get involved in the R&D required. You evidently reject the alternative. Why?

I would also encourage you, if you are so well-informed about energy, to make investments in these things and get rich. As I said in an earlier post, if you suffer from guilt at actually making money, you can always give it to a registered charity. My general observation is, however, that those who talk loudest about alternatives rarely invest their own money or time in them.

Posted by: C&J at September 27, 2011 6:45 AM
Comment #329824

C&J-
There are green ways to process the chemicals used to manufacture these devices. The fact that some manufacturers in China do not choose to properly dispose of or recycle those chemicals does not mean the technology isn’t green. It means that Chinese manufacturing methods are not green.

But burning fossil fuels is definitely not green. Did you know that running an incandescent bulb generates more mercury through the burning of the coal used to power many plants, than is in the average compact flourescent? The carbon emissions, too, are difficult to sequester.

Once you got that solar panel up and running, the only thing that needs to be burning is the hydrogen the sun is fusing in order to shine in our sky. (burning is a proper way to refer to the fusion of elements in a star, before you complain.)

Now the more solar we develop here, the more green that solar will be.

As far as oil goes, you have yet to demonstrate that I am wrong. I’m not saying that twenty years from now, there’ll be no oil. What I’m saying is that more and more of that oil will be of the kind that is more expensive to find, to recover, and to refine. It will only get less green as time goes on, where solar panels will be going in the other direction, becoming easier to process in a conscientious fashion.

I find it disappointing that you’ve bought into this “Solyndra Scandal” BS. What is it, solar has to have a perfect record, or it’s evidence of the Obama Administration deliberately seeking out substandard companies to support? Bull. You make a lot of the number, but 98.7% of the rest of the loans made under the same program are still good. Like I said, Solyndra’s problem is not that the industry is inherently mediocre in its performance.

Solyndra’s problem is that it’s manufacturing methods centered around a way of making the solar cells that was less expensive than the methods others were using when they started up. Unfortunately for them, others made advances and innovations in manufacturing that dropped the price to produce panels. So, they lost out. It happens.

I do not reject R&D by the way. Quite the contrary. I’d pump even more money in. But not at the expense of actually capitalizing business now. It’s not either/or for me, it’s both, now, and more please! That’s why I say we should be taking the tax breaks, the billions a year we spend to prop up the profit margins of already profitable oil companies, and devote them to that task.

The truth of the matter is, whatever efforts you put into oil, it is by it’s nature a limited resource, and one that creates a worldwide climate problem with it’s eventual result. If we wait, like you want, if we only deploy this technology when all uncertainties are removed (Like they’ve never been with oil), then making the eventual transiation will be more expensive, more economically disruptive, and more of a negative for our economy and our environment.

I’d say change now, while you have that cushion of relatively cheap energy.

As for investments? Look, nearly every bulb in my house is a Compact flourescent. My car is a hybrid, and I deliberately drive it for optimal fuel efficiency. I put what money I have where my mouth is.

But what about you? You believe that Global Climate Change is a real problem. You believe that we ought to reduce carbon emission, even going so far as to support a carbon tax to do it. How about going the extra mile, and supporting an active, rather than passive conversion of our nation’s infrastructure to more renewable and and inexhaustible energy sources?

Like I said in previous entries of yours, what we need to be doing is moving from the Hunter-Gatherer stage of energy production, where we simply find it, to the Agricultural stage, where we deliberately cultivate its concentration and production on a sustainable basis.

Already now, fossil fuels serve as a constraint on our growth. When they become more expensive, so does running our economy. I would rather have our economy liberated from this addiction, not to mention our government’s expenditures. We do not need to be using today’s tax dollars to ensure that we will continue to use a fuel that will only become more expensive as time goes on, and yields decline. Oil doesn’t have to run out entirely for it to become a problem for our economy. It only has to get sufficiently expensive to be a drag on growth.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 27, 2011 8:23 AM
Comment #329825

Stephen

I agree with the goal of alterntive energy, but the mechanism of government picking winners and giving loan guarentees is not the means to reach that goal. This is the lesson of Solyndra scandal.

I prefer the ARPA-E type program.

There is an excellent article in today’s Washington Post that details the many missteps and political pressure faced by/created by the Obama folks. Some of the adults in the room, like Larry Summers, actually warned that exactly this kind of thing would happen. But unfortunately, inexperience beat good sense.

So let me do my simple thing

1. I support alternative energy
2. Direct government intervention, especially by inexperienced people like the Obama folks, is the wrong way to get it.

Posted by: C&J at September 27, 2011 9:09 AM
Comment #329828

C&J-
You sound like you’re simply repeating a set of talking points, drawing the same conclusions your politicians are. Politicians who, by the way, keep voting to cut ARPA-E.

Solyndra has been generalized the wrong way. Solyndra failed because other firms have been too successful in making their processes for creating the silicon panels cheaper. Their business model was to be the low-cost alternative. If you were right, and the other solar panels weren’t doing well in the market, they wouldn’t have failed.

Ah, but it is symbolic, isn’t it? That’s about all they got right, really. They chose a company that Obama had visited and praised, and then made their typical argument about how choosing winners and everything is dumb for government.

Made that argument, even while they choose to make winners out of energy traders, energy companies, and oil companies, subsidizing, offering taxt breaks, etc. You may disclaim picking them as such, but the people you’re getting this Solyndra scandal from, the folks who brought it up in the first place are the same folks who defend these subsidies to the fossil fuel companies. The scandal mongering and policies are not unconnected.

You keep on dropping this “inexperienced” line on me. People have been saying that about Obama since the start. What you really say is that he’s not been long enough to gain the right kind of pessimism about anything that alters the status quo.

Your reservations are misplaced. Solar power is truly a growth industry, not in partisan terms, but in fully objective terms. Like I said before, Solyndra’s bad bet was getting behind a manufacturing process that was overtaken by the market. Was it a mistake? Yes. Has the solar industry just cratered? No.

The real problem, and what you in your economically narrow sensibilities don’t appreciate, is that part of the issue is a competitive one, and your side wants to go on supporting the old guard, subsidizing those who ensure our money keeps on going overseas, instead of creating a competitive market here.

I see few other countries being so naive as to simply let the market shake out for them on this. Those who can make these panels are using government supports to help them, and that’s giving them an advantage in comparison to us.

The simple fact is, under Republicans, America simply doesn’t compete for it’s own sake that much. It lets transnational companies that are not necessarily loyal to America’s bottom line write the policies.

Solyndra is about discrediting green energy, so that we can go back to the old practice of subsidizing the not so green exclusively. The old guard doesn’t want competition.

America, though, needs to be, should be competitive.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 27, 2011 11:54 AM
Comment #329832

SD

So Solyndra went to being at the forfront to in the tank in less than two months and half trillion dollars later. If that is what you believe then go ahead believe all the BS out there that is available. Including one of Obama’s bundlers from Solyndra.

The administration new what it was doing and thought they could pull a fast one. They were slow in doing it and so they pulled a slow one and got caught.

Why did not someone in the administration investigate the financial standing of Solyndra before the large dose of contributions to the democratic party? Oops, they are democrats too.

Posted by: tom humes at September 27, 2011 2:58 PM
Comment #329836

tom humes-
You pick one loan out of many, 1.3% out of 100%, to badmouth a program as if it was some kind of horrible debacle. It certainly is embarrassing to Obama, but to treat it like your folks have is the work of desperate mudslingers, and worse yet, those who mudsling at the expense of practical policy.

The Obama Administration did not just give loan guarantees to Solyndra, so making it respresentantive of Obama’s whole approach is a textbook example of cherry-picking.

No program is going to be completely successful.

As for Solyndra itself, You should explain to me why Republicans and Bush Administration officials were for the loan program, and for including Solyndra before they were against it. The Bush Administration changed the definition of what could be counted as an eligible company under the loan program, and the change only let Solyndra into the program.

You know what I think makes the difference? President Obama. It doesn’t matter what Republicans believed or pushed before they got into office. If Obama said he was for it after that point, they’re against it. The GOP’s not the Grand Old Party anymore, it’s the Get Obama Party. Conservatives can’t stand anybody else governing, and if they have to be hypocrites and cowards about their own policies, they’ll do it in order to get their shots in on Obama. Under Bush, they could see no wrong, under Obama they can see no right.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 27, 2011 3:33 PM
Comment #329839

Stephen

“Solyndra failed because other firms have been too successful in making their processes for creating the silicon panels cheaper.” This is econ 101. Of course this is why. And it is why government should not have guaranteed them.

Re talking points - please find me a set of talking points that resemble what I write. I don’t think you will find Republican or Democrats who have my peculiar combinations.

Re solar - Good. WHEN it works we will use it. And it will not be made by Solyndra.

We are talking tautologies here. You claim that solar works and it cheap. If that is true, why don’t all those “greedy people” you talk about do it?

Re other countries - which other countries? Are there some that get most of their energy from solar? And if they develop such things, cannot we also buy them?

You are living in a science fiction world here. All this stuff sounds good and may be good in the future.

Do you have solar installed on your house?

Re Bush being for Solyndra - they investigated and decided against going ahead. Obama pushed on. That was the mistake.


Posted by: C&J at September 27, 2011 3:57 PM
Comment #329844

SD writes; “Solyndra failed because other firms have been too successful in making their processes for creating the silicon panels cheaper. Their business model was to be the low-cost alternative. If you were right, and the other solar panels weren’t doing well in the market, they wouldn’t have failed.”

It is difficult to believe anyone could write such drivel. Please tell us SD, why Solyndra officials would rather take the Fifth than testify as to what you wrote? Why would anyone take the Fifth to protect themselves if the company’s only fault was a failure to compete successfully?

Some folks are so blinded by their political desires that they manage to train their minds to ignore the truth and accept the lie.

Posted by: Royal Flush at September 27, 2011 4:23 PM
Comment #329845

SD

The Solyndra episode is a scandal. Half trillion dollars and in six weeks file bancruptcy??????

C&J responded with what I was going to say RE: Bush administration. Bush administration looked into it and saw that the red flags surrounded the business. You can’t call this a Bush failure as much as it is burning in you to do so. This is an abysmal failure of the Obama administration not doing it work.

Furthermore, DOE put in the agreement that any repayment goes to investors first and don’t worry about the taxpayers. We are going to get the extremely short end of the stick. In fact there may not be anything but a splinter.

Talk about your percentages all you want. When scandal is involved with a failure, the problem is compounded in a myriad of directions.

If a failure occurs because of a natural progression of things, good management, stewardship of funds, and so forth, that is hard to argue about.

But this is worse than a wormy apple. This is just plain criminal.

Posted by: tom humes at September 27, 2011 4:31 PM
Comment #329846

SD

You are trying to make this a rep/dem issue.

When the picture is a resemblance of a flower you don’t call it a freight train.

You try to paint everything as either republican or democrat.

There are issues of right and wrong. This company stole half a trillion dollars from the taxpayers. They had the endorsement of people making decisions that should be held accountable just as much as the company management.

Posted by: tom humes at September 27, 2011 4:37 PM
Comment #329848


Anything the Republicans can do to stymie Obama’s continuation of the conservative agenda is all right by me.

How about a discussion on why Solyndra failed?

Posted by: jlw at September 27, 2011 5:37 PM
Comment #329850

Okay, for the sake of the discussion, let’s talk about part of why Solyndra failed.

Normal panels on the market are what is called polycrystalline silicon. Solyndra’s panels were going to be built around a thin film process put onto a special frame. The problem for Solyndra was that Polycrystalline Silicon got cheaper. But was that necessarily an anticipateable development? No.

There are 38 billion dollars in other loan guarantees out there, and Solyndra’s the only one that’s gone bad so far. It was a mistake to support them, but if it’s a mistake, it’s a mistake everybody made, and which the Republicans decided to support before they opposed it.

By the way, if you’re talking about the loan approval, you should should know that the people who approved the loan after the Obama Administration stepped in were the same people who reversed the decision in the first place.

This is a Rep/Dem issue, but Republicans want want to make it a purely Democratic issue.

Tom Humes-
Half a trillion dollars? Try billion, if you’re looking for the appropriate large number to halve for effect. It’s a Bush and Obama failure. It’s not a solar industry failure; that industry’s growing, and we’re exporting panels, despite China’s price advantage. It’s not a green technology failure, for the samre reasons.

Did you bother to read the article, to learn what names on the right, names associate with the Tea Party, were part of the original support on the program? Did you bother to learn that the purpose of the program, was to seek alternatives to fossil fuels to wean us off of foreign oil?

Guess not. You’re not going to admit that Republicans have moved pieces on both sides of this board, talked out of both sides of their mouths on this. For Democrats, this is a failure, and the first major problem with a stimulus policy. But for Republicans? This is yet another example of their self-contradictory flip-flops, done for the purpose of defeating Obama.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 27, 2011 6:30 PM
Comment #329852

SD writes, “This is a Rep/Dem issue, but Republicans want want to make it a purely Democratic issue.”

Nope…sorry but that isn’t true. This is an issue of fraud. Can you think of any other reason that the principals in Solyndra would plead the Fifth before congressional inquiry? Now, I don’t know for certain who perpetrated the fraud, but it was certainly someone in the government executive branch.

There will be, and should be, continuing congressional inquiries into this fraud. Whoever is responsible must be charged with crimes and prosecuted regardless of party or position.

Posted by: Royal Flush at September 27, 2011 7:04 PM
Comment #329854

Stephen

Beyond all the partisan nonsense, NOBODY should be able to make such deals as the government did with Solyndra. This kind of power indeed can corrupt Republicans and Democrats and it distorts choices.

My point in this post and many others is not to exonerate Republicans but rather to point out that the tools of an interventionist government create corruptions and problem and therefore should be used sparingly or not at all.

If you want to argue that Republicans are as bad as Democrats or the reverse, that simply strengthens the point that we should not be using government in this manner.

Posted by: C&J at September 27, 2011 7:48 PM
Comment #329855

Royal Flush-
Why is it a purely Democratic issue? Major Republicans, including current critics, promoted this program.

Doesn’t that make it an exercise in ass-covering if they’re attacking it now? Why would you want to be distracted from that fact. They may very well be protesting this much because somebody slipped them money under the table.

Or maybe not, but let’s be equal opportunity paranoids, while we’re at it. After all, Solyndra did end up on an administration short-list before the loans were finally approved. you can say you broke off the engagement, but that’s only after a very long courtship during which the Bush Administration changed the rules so they could be included.

The Obama administration shouldn’t have been in the rush they were to push it. That’s simple enough to say. They made mistakes. But the folks on the Right should not be off the hook, if as the evidence says, they were part of things. This should be a nice, mutual rolling of the heads. Or are you willing to let people off the hook because they were part of a politically friendly administration?

As for the “drivel”? It’s true. The fact that it makes solar look better obviously distresses you. You’re rooting for a team here, it seems.

Fact is, their product couldn’t compete on price. They could have made decisions that might have ensured their survival despite that, but they weren’t lead by the right management. The other 37.5 billion dollars worth of loan guarantees are holding up just fine.

So, we look at what happened, and we reform the system. And we get back to competing with the Chinese and the Germans and everybody else, rather than fold up the tent over a cherry-picked, symbolic failure.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 27, 2011 7:49 PM
Comment #329856

Stephen

To add a last line

“Lead them not into temptation” because politicians will not often resist the urge to use the power of the state when they can.

Posted by: C&J at September 27, 2011 7:50 PM
Comment #329857


The good news is that private investors have first lean rights. Sorry taxpayers, the losses will be sociaismed again. That should be the taxpayers biggest concern, being used to socialize the losses of capital. But, this is exactly what the people should expect when money is free speech and holds the purse strings of our election process. It is what we can expect when the voters are divided on whether gays should have a right to get married.

Posted by: jlw at September 27, 2011 8:13 PM
Comment #329858

SD writes; “Royal Flush-
Why is it a purely Democratic issue? Major Republicans, including current critics, promoted this program.”

Please read more carefully, I didn’t write that. I said it is fraud.

Then he writes; “Or are you willing to let people off the hook because they were part of a politically friendly administration?”

Good grief man…read what I wrote, not what you might do. I wrote we should find the perps and prosecute he, she, or they, regardless of party or position. Can I make that any more clear?

Then he writes; “As for the “drivel”? It’s true.”

Thank you for agreeing. You still haven’t come up with any reason, besides fraud, that would lead these assholes to plead the Fifth. Yet, you seem to defend them…..WHY?

Could it be that they are not only covering their own asses, but that of some in the administration? We will find out you know. And, I don’t believe you will like the results.

Posted by: Royal Flush at September 27, 2011 8:14 PM
Comment #329859

jlw

Exactly why we should not give government that sort of power. Money follows the power and power follows the money. You really cannot get one out without addressing the other. If you give government officials and politicians the power to reward like this and the power to socialize loses while keeping gains private, they will use it.

Posted by: C&J at September 27, 2011 8:26 PM
Comment #329862

C&J,

It is clear that private capital will not invest in nuclear power without a government guarantee. The Bush administration offered a few billion. The Obama administration has upped the ante considerably. Is that wrong? Consider the fact that over half of our current reactors have exceeded their planned life cycle of 40 years and have been granted extensions for another 20 years. Consider, also that no new reactors have been commissioned in 30 years and all nuclear reactors in this country will have exceeded their life cycles in a few years. What should we do?

Posted by: Rich at September 27, 2011 10:26 PM
Comment #329863

Royal Flush-
You quoted my exact words on that matter and said “Nope, sorry, not true”, or something to that effect. What exactly were you denying if not the very thing you were quoting?

I’m not defending the Solyndra execs. I think you’re right that they might be crooks. Let the FBI investigate them.

Let them investigate the whole damn thing, including a ****load of lobbyist that the company hired who worked for Republicans.

Solyndra’s director of government relations since October 2010 was Victoria Sanville. According to her Linked In profile, she had spent the previous seven years working as a congressional staffer for three Republican congressmen, John Sweeney, Peter Roskam, and Michael Graves. Another Washington-based Solyndra government-relations professional was Joseph Pasetti; his Capitol Hill experience came as an aide in the office of Alfonse D’Amato, a Republican senator from New York. Solyndra’s registered outside lobbyists at the Glover Park Group included Alex Mistri, who worked from 2005 to 2008 as special assistant to President George W. Bush, a Republican. Before that, he was chief of staff to congressman Bill Shuster, a Republican. In 2010 and 2011, according to Senate lobbying records, Solyndra spent $130,000 on lobbyists at the Washington Tax Group LLC. Solyndra’s lobbyists there included Greg Nickerson, a former aide to Republican congressmen Bill Thomas and Jim McCrery. Mr. Nickerson “served on the Delegate and Caucus Team at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York and worked as an attorney advisor to the National Republican Senatorial Committee during the 2004 and 2006 elections,” according to his biography on his lobbying firm web site. Also on the Solyndra account at Washington Tax Group LLC was Jan Fowler, whose Capitol Hill experience came as an aide to another Republican, Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio.

The source comes from Reason hardly a part of the “lamestream liberal” media you so hate. I disagree with the eventual conclusion, but given that this is a conservative source that cites objective facts (such as the fact that this program was begun as part of the 2005 Energy bill, and that only six Republican Senators voted against it.) I think I can give the writers credit where credit is due.

The problem with the Republican’s scandalmongering machine is that they’re too quick to look for opportunities to trash Democrats, not quick enough to make sure that they truly have their target dead to rights, or that they’re clear of the scandal themselves. The net effect of this stupidity is that Republicans get shown up, even under the best circumstances, as utter hypocrites. Whether it’s Republican Governors lining up for stimulus funds before or after trashing the program, Republicans forsaking their own policy when Obama or other Democrats take them up (I’m looking at you, Mitt Romney), morons making teleprompter jokes while reading off of teleprompters themselves, Republicans, it seems, just can’t keep from trampling their own toes, chasing after Obama’s defeat.

The only consistency for Republicans is what our President is for, they must be against, what he succeeds at, they must destroy and deny, and what he fails at must be exaggerated without regard for what the facts really say.

That’s all you’ve got. I might not like the results that come from the investigation, but at least I’m willing to wait to be enlightened about what really happened, before hyping the scandal as one that goes all the way to the top.

C&J-
Is there a means of determining where that feedback loop ends? Failures can be learned from. Government processes can, and have been reformed.

If all you can do in the face of government failure is say, “government can’t do that” and retreat from that, then you’ll never learn to govern well, because all failure in government will become a self-fulfilling (not to mention self-serving) prophecy.

Worse, it will become a conflict of interest. What interest do those who hate government, or think it utterly incapable of functioning have to genuinely reform it, or operating it well? When you can deliberately fail to do your job, and blame it on the fact that government would screw up everything, and having done that, be rewarded by your voters for speaking what they think is the truth, what is the incentive to do right?

I can acknowledge government is flawed, but doing so doesn’t mean I have to buy into a philosophy that means I’ll do little to change it. Government can and has done better. We can be careful about how we mold the powers of government, ensure oversight and integrity, not simply get enamored with Government’s ability to spread the wealth. There will always be tensions between those who want government to address the public good, and those who simply want to exploit its power for their own benefit, or it’s lack of same. Learned helplessness and the panacea of budget cutting is not what Americans brought either the Democratic or the Republican majority on for.

Sooner or later, public sentiment will get this point across.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 28, 2011 12:05 AM
Comment #329865

I don’t think that there should be much actual disagreement with C&J’s leading point about the legitimate role for government in energy R&D, including the indirect seed funding of the ARPA-E program. This is particularly true when the astoundingly low level of private sector energy R&D is taken into consideration.

”.. the level of R&D spending in the U.S. energy sector is small in absolute terms and as a percent of revenue (0.3%) when compared with other sectors. For example, the total amount of private sector investment in all forms of energy research in our portfolio would likely amount to little more than half of the leading life science R&D investor, Merck, or the leading software/IT R&D investor, Microsoft, both of which invested more than $8.4 billion in R&D in 2009.” http://www.rdmag.com/Feature-Articles/2010/12/Policy-And-Industry-Government-Funding-2011-Global-RD-Funding-Forecast-Industrial-RD-Energy/

The disagreement appears to be related to the role of the government in the deployment and scaling up of the energy innovations. From the above link: “At the same time, public-private collaboration and commercialization are necessary to deploy energy innovation at scale, since the government controls little energy production or distribution capacity (except fossil reserves on federal lands).”

C&J’s argument that government picking and choosing either the technology for scaling or specific firms has considerable merit. The corn ethanol debacle is a good case on point in terms of technologies and Solyndra a good case regarding individual firms.

Nonetheless, it appears that some form of government intervention will be necessary to create the market incentives for deployment of alternative technologies or even necessary interim high risk technologies (nuclear). The lower costs of fossil fuels for the intermediate future are a huge disincentive not only for alternative R&D but also for deployment of technologies with only long term promise.

It seems to me, that many of the problems in this area result from a failure to have developed a national energy policy incorporating R&D and market deployment issues. It has been an ad hoc, crisis to crisis approach with energy. We jerk from one approach to another. It is an invitation to disaster. Its absurd that the DOE would be directly negotiating loan guarantees with private firms for manufacturing. But, is there a national energy bank with the expertise to properly screen and manage such loan guarantees? What are we going to do about raising the capital necessary for replacement of nuclear power plants in the very near future? The whole inventory providing over 20% of our power is virtually obsolete. What’s the plan? I don’t see one. Only some vague concept of loan guarantees for investment in new plants but no solid commitments to getting it done.

Posted by: Rich at September 28, 2011 8:44 AM
Comment #329867

Royal,

Can you think of any other reason that the principals in Solyndra would plead the Fifth before congressional inquiry?

I don’t know, a petty little thing called the Constitution?

Posted by: Tom Jefferson at September 28, 2011 9:46 AM
Comment #329870

SD

I think it is great that you showed republican lobbyists, and give the appearance that Solyndra had only republican lobbyists.

Now be fair and list those democrat lobbyists.

If you choose to not list them I will consider your item printed above as poppycock, bs, and eny other crap one could come up with.

You continually do what you accuse others of doing and try to convey that because you do it is has sound reasoning and truth.

Integrity needs to be done in these cases and it is absent from your writing. Opinion is flooded, but is tainted.

Maranatha

Posted by: tom humes at September 28, 2011 1:16 PM
Comment #329872

SD writes; “I’m not defending the Solyndra execs. I think you’re right that they might be crooks. Let the FBI investigate them.”

Thank you. I agree. Frankly, I don’t care which political party, if any, or politician, if any, or other government employee is at the root of this scandal. I want the person or persons found and punished severely.

Following your opening statement, with which I agree, your comments ramble off to become a political litany of charges unrelated to why the Solyndra executives pleaded the Fifth rather than shed light on what happened.

You may accuse me all you wish of attempting to politicize this issue, but it is meaningless as I have not done that…you have.

Royal,

Can you think of any other reason that the principals in Solyndra would plead the Fifth before congressional inquiry?
I don’t know, a petty little thing called the Constitution?

Posted by: Tom Jefferson at September 28, 2011

Let’s examine what you wrote Tom. The reason the principals in Solyndra pleaded the Fifth is because it is in the Constitution? That is not a reason. The question was…why?

Posted by: Royal Flush at September 28, 2011 1:45 PM
Comment #329874

Royal, Your right the principals must have something to hide or are protecting someone that would cause both to fall.

Posted by: KAP at September 28, 2011 2:28 PM
Comment #329879


The company had a great product, non-silicon solar collection. They didn’t count on the price of silicon falling and giving their competitors an advantage. I have also read articles suggesting that the executives of the company participated some underhanded, probably illegal, conduct. If so they should be prosecuted and if found guilty, given a sentence that will impress others, say twenty years without parole.

Yes, there were both Democrats and Republicans involved in the company plus both Democratic and Republican representatives brokering the loan.

C&J, I may be rather old fashioned and quite naive, but I think the power resides with the people as a whole and the reason the government has so much power is because the people have better things to do than check their representatives power. Barely 50% of them manage to vote, and a large percentage of them vote partisan, based more on their favorite representatives rhetoric rather than his voting record. A dilemma of representative democracy, how can the people expect their government to govern by consensus when the people can’t form a consensus.

Let’s all pretend that Solyndra is an iceberg rather than the tip of one. Let’s all pretend that is the case with every wedge issue that Democrats and Republicans can scrape up rather that having an honest forum and debate on the future of our country. Why don’t we have such a forum? Because the powerful don’t want it and the people DON’T HAVE THE TIME TO SPARE to watch.

Posted by: jlw at September 28, 2011 4:25 PM
Comment #329881


Government stimulus aimed at development and jobs in manufacturing is dependent on corporations desires to do so. They have no desire to do so. At this time and in light of the current situation, the government would better serve the public good by concentrating it’s stimulus efforts on infrastructure.

In 2004, Congress passed a overseas profits repatriation tax holiday designed to create investment and jobs here. the tax rate was reduced to 5.25% and produced neither investments or jobs.

All we have to do to get the corporate owners interested again is eliminate every aspect of our society that is not conducive to the maximization of profits.

Posted by: jlw at September 28, 2011 5:01 PM
Comment #329884

Tom

The Constitution is the means by which they are protected. The reason they seek that protection is the question. If you are asked if you are cheating on your spouse, taking the 5th might lead to further questions.

jlw

The people are sovereign, but they have to execute their will through institutions and the agency of others. Please see below.

Rich

Nukes are so big that only government can do part of it and some of the reason it costs so much is (usually necessary) government process. The same goes for other very large infrastructure.

The solar industry does not suffer this same constraint. You can (and many have) set up your own solar energy production.

I read an interesting article yesterday talking about why the Solyndra fiasco was such a mistake. The investment was just wrong, since by the time it was made, other technologies had surpassed the ones used by Solyndra, which is why private money was not easily forthcoming. But more importantly, the problem for solar is NOT the panels, but rather the storage. Solar is already widely deployed in places and circumstances where it works well.

Please also see below, especially the last parts. Government can provide incentives by providing infrastructure of improvement. I wrote previously about the usefulness of incubators. Government could also give preferential tax treatment to non-carbon sources (I prefer a carbon tax, but if the reverse is the best we can do it is better than nothing). In that way, we would articulate the goal w/o dictating the means.

Stephen

Government has repeatedly shown its strengths in organizing large forces to achieve well-defined and agreed goals and its weakness in fine innovation and addressing goals where there is an uncertain path or not wide consensus.

Government CANNOT learn to do better w/o stopping being government. It has at its disposal the power of coercion and law making. It uses these powers to move things along. It also MUST work within established norms and procedures (i.e. limited innovation) because to do otherwise would be illegal. You cannot allow smaller groups or individuals to change the rules of the game, which is the key to innovation in other contexts.

Think about it in the Solyndra context. Evidently by the time the loan guarantee was made, MOST industry experts expected the Solyndra technology to be overtaken by others. Others who were offered government loan guarantees turned them down because they knew they were too risky using the technologies. Government bureaucrats might have know this too. But they are not allowed to just change President Obama’s program to fit reality. They have to go with the precepts, which are almost always a little out of date and sometimes much.

There are legal requirements and penalties involved with government grant making which do not allow change or innovation. It is the law. If you stop having such things, you will lose all control, which government cannot do. That is why there are many things government just cannot do.

It is NOT a matter of learning. Everybody (at least everybody who is reasonably intelligent) involved in the system understands the constraints. But they cannot change them because it is the nature of government NOT to allow delegation of ability to spend money like this. AND you would not want to change that. It is a necessary part of accountability in government.

I don’t hate government; I love government. It is simply a very strong tool that can be effective in some places; ineffective in others and downright dangerous in some situations.

Think of it like a hammer. A hammer is great at driving in nails. It can be used to drive in screws with less elegance. But it will utterly fail and probably cause damage if you try to use it as a socket wrench.

Posted by: C&J at September 28, 2011 6:44 PM
Comment #329885

Well stated argument regarding the constraints of government C&J

Posted by: Royal Flush at September 28, 2011 7:15 PM
Comment #329886

C&J,

Its not the cost of the infrastructure that inhibits private investment. Nuclear energy is competitive with oil, natural gas and coal even when the cost of construction and disposal of waste is taken into consideration. It is the risk of a catastrophic accident. Nobody wants to take that risk in the US after Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and the Japanese accident. So, should the government assume the risk that the private sector will not take and guarantee loans? If not, what is going to replace nuclear energy within the next two decades?

Posted by: Rich at September 28, 2011 8:36 PM
Comment #329887

Rich

There is a problem with risks like this that cannot be properly assessed. In all the nuclear accidents in all of the history of American civilian nuclear power, nobody has ever died. This is a safety record rarely equaled and never surpassed by any form of energy creation. But the possible cost of failure is very high at a one time event.

In the case of coal, people die every year. In the course of the more than half century that nuclear power has been with us, thousands have died as a direct result of coal and many others indirectly. There has been significant environmental degradation. But since it happened in relatively small bites, it was never “catastrophic” as a nuke accident could be, but so far has not been.

If you figure the odds that contrast the certainty of death and destruction over fifty years with the possibility of a probably smaller loss, the choice is clear. However, no private firm can afford to take the risk on its own.

IMO - this kind of absorption of massive potential risk that will in all probability yield significant societal benefits is one of the things that government can do well.

IMO - this is a classic example of risk management, but on a massive scale.

Posted by: C&J at September 28, 2011 9:05 PM
Comment #329888

Every once in a while you run across a fact that is so contrary to popular perception that it defies belief. The fact that the energy sector spends less than any other major sector on R&D is such a fact for me. It is astounding to me that Merck and Microsoft, each, spend more on R&D than the entire energy sector combined is astounding to me. You would think that the economic importance of alternative and more efficient fuels and technology would spur huge investment in R&D.

So, whats up with this extraordinarily important sector of our economy? No R&D on alternatives or more efficiency? You might just think that we have been played for fools. The energy field has been characterized by consolidation over the past few decades with the result that there are only a handful of companies dominating the market. Is it not in their best interests to maintain a fossil fuel environment?

Posted by: Rich at September 28, 2011 9:05 PM
Comment #329905

tom humes-
Read my comment carefully, and you will find I acknowledge both side have their shoes smeared with this crap, so you can’t claim I’m employing a tu quoque fallacy here, because I’m not hoping to exonerate those Democrats involved, or claim that there’s no moral authority to go after Solyndra or the folks in Washington who supported it.

If you choose to treat my list as poppycock because I don’t list Democratic Lobbyists in turn, then you will be committing a fallacy yourself. However imbalanced that list might be by a lack of Democratic names, the facts are real, and if you deny them, then you’re in the wrong.

Meanwhile, I’m quite prepared to stipulate that Democrats were likely involved in lobbying and that some connections with them might have been abused. I’m not going to offer names from Democrats, because I don’t know them, but I think the investigations will find quite a few of those names. Since my goal was merely to demonstrate that the Red column’s one-sided version of the facts was inaccurate, not to exonerate my party from the need for scrutiny itself, I really don’t need to name them. I’ll gladly stipulate that there need to be fair and impartial investigations of the whole she-bang, and the heads that should roll, should roll.

My attitude towards corruption is that if it turns out that some Democrat is corrupt, that Democrat should be punished as is appropriate. I have no desire to embrace those who betray their public trust.

Integrity needs to be done in these cases and it is absent from your writing. Opinion is flooded, but is tainted.

The truth depends on the facts, not the integrity of the presenter of those facts. If the real or imagined character of the person presenting them is pushed as the defining standard of what is right or wrong, well then we can get into trouble. I got into such trouble a few months ago because of my distrust of Andrew Breitbart’s claims on account of his character. Even scumbags like him can sometimes be right, so it’s important to form opinions on a factual basis.

If I am right, then you need to reconsider your partisan assumptions here.

Royal Flush-
Solyndra does reflect a mistake on the Administration’s part, which might even extend to something worse on the part of some officials. I make no attempt to deny this possiblity. At best, I’m just going to say “let the chips fall where they may” on the investigation.

I’ve seen the Republican knock themselves silly on spin, and Democrats sometimes do the same. It doesn’t help much, in either case. Keep in mind, though, I’m not all that motivated to make a concession without the facts to require it of me. I’ve made the mistake sometimes of conceding things when Republicans and conservatives have failed to do their homework, or when investigations end up clearing the people in question.

So, it amounts to “let’s see what shakes out.”

Which is not your attitude or the author’s. From the start, you’ve been salivating over giving Obama a black eye over this, claiming it’s representative of the relative success or failure of his entire green energy initiative and its integrity.

I’ll admit what I should concede, but so far you’ve had one conclusion you’ve wanted to maintain, and it’s been difficult to get you to admit that anything short of exactly that is true. So, physician, heal thyself.

C&J-
So, you’ve got it all figured out!

I think what you have there is a bunch of philosophy dressed up as a statement of fact. At the end of the day, people have a certain amount of latitude. There were multiple points at which the Solyndra failure could have been prevented. Decisions could have been made that were entirely under people’s authority.

The question is why it wasn’t. When we just think that government can’t do anything, the question is irrelevant, since you’ve already decided that nobody can get it right. When we acknowledge the possibility that the right decision could have been made, then we can as, what specifically, rather than generally or philosophically, went wrong.

My work, on a day by day basis, is actually quite mechanical. There’s a lot of plugging in and opening up, and taking things apart. My philosophy is that every cable and every fastener will tell you it’s proper shape or proper tool, if you’ll allow yourself to see it. If you just trying to force things, or assume something’s hopeless, nothing will ever get done, or what you will do will probably break what you’re trying to fix.

Getting things done right is more important than insisting on getting your way.

It is a matter of learning. The shape of the best rules, the best incentives, the best disincentives, depends on the way things actually work. If you know that your system you’re dealing with is volatile or complex, then you’ll design the way you govern with that in mind. Things like disclosure in corporate investments, or requirements of collateral for certain margin calls, or criteria for passing and failing an inspection, can be used to smooth over the inevitable problems of dealing with a real world that doesn’t confine itself to what we can expect or anticipate.

Temple Grandin, an autistic who excels at designing livestock handling facilities proposed the idea that rather than getting into the minutia on what kind of materials could be used on a ramp that cattle should remain surefooted on, that the inspector should simply do a pass/fail on criteria such as whether the cow slips or not. The people running the facility can figure out what needs to be on that ramp so the cattle don’t slip, just so long as the cattle don’t slip.

I like that sort of thinking. Truth is, we’re looking for results, and getting them is often complex. Rather than say, “You have to use a hammer.” We can say, “Well, the nail needs to go in flush, so, use the right tool.”

Too often in modern government, people get too literal-minded, too eager to anticipate each and every possibility, which of course, they can’t. Folks on both the left and the right fail to take advantage of and cultivate individual judgment. But really, if you want to either lessen or increase government’s role effectively, the key to making it go right is that people learn the ins and outs of the situation effectively, and cultivate the right level of education in the fields in question. Even if you get the right tool, a hammer, pounding in the right fastener, a nail, into the right surface, often wood, if the person’s not using the hammer right, it won’t matter how good each of the items is.

Few tools, few disciplines are fool proof. The key is to get fewer fools in charge.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 29, 2011 3:22 PM
Comment #329915

SD writes; “From the start, you’ve been salivating over giving Obama a black eye over this, claiming it’s representative of the relative success or failure of his entire green energy initiative and its integrity.”

Nope, sorry…you misrepresent me and my position. That I don’t like obama’s policies, his favoring of special interests over what may work, his reliance on government solutions where private industry does it better, and…his politicizing nearly everything now as an election stunt, is correct.

obama is a horrible president. He is unacceptable as a world leader and most leaders just ignore him. He has no inkling of how capitalism works, and I believe, is an anti-capitalist.

He is better suited to fixing toilets and driving folks to the polls. His head is stuck in Marxist philosophy as a result of his mentors. He hates those who succeed in the business world and wishes to confiscate the wealth of the nation to dole it out as he deems appropriate.

Like you SD, I just want to get to the bottom of the Solyndra business and prosecute those responsible regardless of who and what they are. I believe there will be many more Solyndra’s ahead of us. Should obama be lucky enough to survive until the election, he will be soundly defeated and take the senate and more governorships down with him. In that respect, he will be good for the nation.

Posted by: Royal Flush at September 29, 2011 5:48 PM
Comment #329917

Stephen

There was the very popular but very stupid phrase “some people look at what is and ask why. I look at things that never were and ask why not?”

Sound great. But it is not. You are looking at the whole innovation thing backward. It is like the lottery winner who thinks that his win was somehow a plan.

Indeed many things are possible, but many things are very improbable.

I have been trying to explain a systemic approach to you. It is beyond my ability to make you understand at your present level of development.

If government officials knew all the facts, anticipated all the changes and made sound decisions based on criteria that were best for all, it really would be great. Have you ever seen that?

Posted by: C&J at September 29, 2011 6:00 PM
Comment #329967

C&J-
I have never seen any human institution know all the fact, anticipate all the changes and make sound decisions based on criteriea that were best for all. Why single governments out for their imperfections?

There is no way to proof oneself against making mistakes, no way to derive all truly correct plans and strategies from abstract thought alone. Even if our logic were flawless, our knowledge is not. Even if our knowledge was flawless, the capacity of people and materials to carry out what we want has its limits.

But of course, practical necessity doesn’t allow us to sit on our asses. Nature and society motivate us well to do things.

Innovation has to have a practical element to it. Our inventions have to face trial in the real world, so we can recognize their flaws and engineer to answer those needs. Improvements in our products don’t come simply because somebody thinks, “Oh, that’s a brilliant idea!” Very often, it’s the limitations of already engineered technology that encourages us to rethinking and redesign things. It’s not backwards to think this way, it’s very often the more common way that innovation occurs: we change already existing technology to fit new needs and take care of the flaws in our inventions that we learn of through the experience of using them.

I’m also explaining a systematic approach to you, but I’m not going to be patronizing to you about it. I’m simply going to explain the truth: that innovation isn’t merely about inspiration, but also adaptation. It’s a feedback cycle, to put it succinctly.

That is why we need technology like this to be used in practice. That’s why it can’t simply be all thought out in the laboratory before people let it go into service. The world’s too complicated to be completely figured out in advance. Some of our knowledge must always be won through hard work, through interaction with reality and response to the unexpected things we discover in the process of that practical testing.

Sometimes we learn by thinking, sometimes we learn by doing, then thinking about what we do.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at October 1, 2011 4:59 PM
Comment #330001

SD

Innovation and new ideas are great.

The government can acknowledge that simple fact by staying out of the process and progress derived from the work necessary to go forward. Whenever government gets into the picture of these things, it always, without fail, costs more, has more corruption, turns a good idea into failure, and as a result good ideas and innovation goes to the sewer, simply because power hungry and greedy politicians can’t behave like civilized human beings. That is exactly why Solyndra happened. Thata is why Obamacare is the fiasco that it is. That is why SS is in deep doo-doo. That is why we have $600 toilet seats. And on and on. In my opinion it has turned into a criminal enterprise. The congress (USC)should be called United Serialized Crime.

Maranatha

Posted by: tom humes at October 3, 2011 1:14 PM
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