Over the last few weeks, President Joe Biden and members of his administration have mounted a focused effort to sell massive new green energy spending to the American people.
Former Obama-era EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, now the Biden White House climate adviser, is pushing Congress to include a federal clean electricity standard (CES) to drive investment in renewable energy and billions in subsidies to incentivize changeover further. Secretary of Energy Jenifer Granholm is doing the same.
The fact McCarthy, and an official like Granholm — who has a track record of failed green energy subsidies — are leading this effort makes this massive push all the more frustrating. These officials, well-meaning though they may be, should know by now that government energy subsidies overwhelmingly end up financing the well-connected rather than the most innovative, a concern I wrote about in a recent piece. The end result is wasted funds and harm to the sector that the government wants to help.
The trial that Elon Musk’s SolarCity has found itself in this week serves as a timely reminder of just how poorly the Obama-Biden green energy agenda went last time around. Beyond the regulatory and quality assurance issues his space company SpaceX and car company Tesla currently face, including recently violating an FAA launch license, Musk is now actively tangled in a legal battle from the solar panel manufacturer’s merger with Tesla. The billionaire stands accused of defrauding investors by not disclosing that the company was on the verge of bankruptcy and that it was highly risky for Tesla — itself a struggling company at the time — to take on SolarCity’s debt.
SolarCity’s struggles were containable partly because it was awarded federal subsidies and nearly $500 million in Treasury grants. The Obama-Biden administration ended up wasting billions of taxpayer dollars with companies like SolarCity and Solyndra going broke or facing significant trouble soon after receiving the helping hand.
To give you an idea of the program’s effectiveness, the fact that SolarCity still technically exists despite its near-bankruptcy and $29 million settlement with the Department of Justice over the fraud case makes it one of the success stories.
Even when investments turn into actual infrastructure, consumers will be unlikely to reap the benefits. Many have championed the “progress” green energy has made over the last decade in providing a more competitive product, but the facilities are still failing, and the progress has been de minimis in terms of capturing global energy market share.
Just last year, the Department of Energy watched as Tonopah Solar Energy LLC in Nevada declared bankruptcy after receiving a $737 million loan from one of their green energy programs. If you can’t make solar panels work in present-day Nevada, how do you expect them to fuel the energy needs of places like Colorado, where Sec. Granholm and Senator John Hickenlooper recently toured a solar garden?
Utility companies that stand to receive billions in subsidies to upgrade their infrastructure support the measure because it will raise rates on consumers while reducing operating costs. Green energy is less efficient and less reliable, so the cost of operations will undoubtedly go up. But with the government covering the costs of setup and repair, it means more revenue with fewer expenses. This will help stockholders far more than working people.
But the calls from the climate change lobby for action are growing louder. Despite not making it into last month’s bipartisan infrastructure deal, many Democrats hope billions of dollars in green subsidies will find their way into a second infrastructure bill that party officials plan to pass through reconciliation. In fact, some Democrats are threatening to withhold their votes for the bipartisan bill unless they receive guarantees of energy provisions.
Democrats have to pass these measures by party-line vote not because Republicans hate the environment (the GOP has a climate change caucus) but due to the fact that their plan is so costly and ill-advised that even moderate Republicans like Susan Collins and Mitt Romney can’t devise a rationale to reasonably offer support. The hard truth is that renewable energy technology isn’t currently capable of handling America’s growing energy demands and remains unlikely to do so in the future. While the idea of renewable energy remains appealing, the reality is that fossil fuels, natural gas, and nuclear power will all be necessary to power our nation for decades to come.
Everyone should support innovation in the energy sector, but the subsidy-heavy plan that Democrats continue to push will only lead to wasted dollars and public backlash against a policy of failed projects. Congress has been down this road before. When the Green New Deal first came up, the bill was seen as so ridiculous that Speaker Pelosi wouldn’t even bring it up for a vote. Congressional Democrats should stick to that past wisdom and avoid falling back into this green subsidy trap.
As REN21, an advocacy group consisting of actors from science, governments, NGOs and industry, recently reported, this is a strategy that, from 2009 through 2019, produced virtually no real gain in overall green energy market share despite trillions of dollars in global targeted subsidies. A replaying of this same failed Obama-era strategy, managed by some of the very same officials, promises only to produce similarly failed results, albeit on an even grander scale.