The Solyndra solar panel company's bankruptcy has become somewhat of a big topic in national political media. Republicans in Congress and right-wing spinners want to use this single business failure as evidence that green jobs aren't real, that alternative energy won't ever capture much of the market, that we must remain chained to greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuels, and that the Obama administration is somehow corrupt. Of course, none of this is true.
Before I discuss that, though, here's something you should know about the green economy at the local level.
The MadiSUN Solar Energy Program, a city of Madison project to help homes and small business owners with the ins and outs of installing solar systems, is in high gear. Thanks to falling solar panel prices (the real reason for Solyndra's failure) and the economies of scale achieved through group purchasing, Madisonians can get home and business solar installations for a very good price, though these deals are good only through the end of October. The return on your investment will be 4% to 6%, much better then you'll get these days in virtually any other investment.
Now, on to Solyndra. This company produces an innovative solar panel in America, and the Obama administration championed a $535 million loan to the company last year. Then the bottom fell out of the price for solar panels, thanks largely to Chinese manufacturers, and Solyndra's higher-quality but higher-priced product couldn't compete. The market did what the market does and the results are sometimes brutal.
In the free market, failure is an option. In fact, free market boosters should love this story, because it's about the market driving down prices and shaking out businesses that can't compete. Renewable Energy World has an interesting article on this dynamic in the renewable business. The publication also reports on the overall growth of the solar market:
...Despite Solyndra going south, the now infamous 1703 loan guarantee program, was working for American jobs. In fact, according to reporting from a former Renewable Energy World editor Stephen Lacey, now at Climate Progress, Solyndra's loan guarantee was just 1.3% of the Department of Energy's overall loan portfolio, and Solyndra is the only loan that's gone bad.
In fact, the industry itself is doing much better then the economy as a whole. There are now over 100,000 workers in the solar industry and that's up 6.8% from a year ago while the overall economy grew at a rate below 1%. Wisconsin ranks fifth in the nation in solar jobs, though the Walker administration is doing all it can to chase them to other states.
The Obama administration did push for the loan as part of an effort to promote alternative energy, but why is that a bad thing? How many conservative administrations have pushed for government handouts to defense contractors that turned out to be a waste of money? Where's the GOP investigation into the $30 billion in fraud and waste in the war efforts, which was reported just after the Solyndra "scandal" broke?
So, don't believe the spin about Solyndra. The solar industry, and the green jobs and greenhouse gas reduction benefits it provides, is thriving. And you can benefit yourself by checking out the MadiSUN program to reduce your own solar footprint and save some green as well.
My thanks to my friend Bryant Moroder for helping me with research for this post.