Solargate Spreads

New revelations suggest that the brewing scandal involving the solar panel industry may run much deeper than the failed Solyndra company. According to a report published by The Daily Caller, officials at at least four other solar companies that received billions in loan guarantees have donated large sums of money to prominent Democrats like President Obama, Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senator Barbara Boxer. In addition, tumbling stock prices suggest that some, if not all, of the companies in question may be heading for financial trouble.

Solyndra, the solar panel manufacturer based in Fremont, California that received $535 million in federal loans, was touted by the Obama administration as an example of the kind of cutting edge, green technology leader that America needs to invest in. The company subsequently declared bankruptcy and, when called upon to testify before a Congressional committee, Solyndra executives repeatedly invoked the 5th Amendment rather than answer questions about the fiasco. Now, it appears that the scandal is spreading. According to The Daily Caller’s John Rossomando:

Companies like First Solar, SolarReserve, SunPower Corporation and Abengoa SA have already, collectively, received billions in loans through Obama administration stimulus programs to build solar power plants in the southwestern United States. Yet each, with the exception of the privately held SolarReserve, has seen its stock price hammered at the same time it was lobbying the Obama administration and Congress for billions in loan guarantees.

For example, according to The Daily Caller, Oklahoma billionaire George Kaiser raised over $50,000 for President Obama in 2008. Kaiser has ties to both SolarReserve and Solyndra. Lee Bailey, a SolarReserve board member and U.S. Renewables Group investor, has donated $21,850 since 2008 to Democratic candidates, including President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and California Sen. Barbara Boxer. SolarReserve also paid more than $100,000 of lobbying fees to the Podesta Group. The Podesta Group is run by Tony Podesta, brother of Obama transition team head Leon Podesta. In the same vein, SunPower, spent almost $300,000 in lobbying fees with a close confidante of Harry Reid’s, as well as making hefty campaign donations to influential Democrats.

Meanwhile, the value of these companies appears to be dropping precipitously. The price of both SolarReserve and SunPower stock has dropped more than sixty per cent in just a few months, and Abengoa SA stock dropped over thirty five per cent in six months. (First Solar is privately held, so financial data is not available.) Nonetheless, not only have they received billions in federal loan guarantees, the Department of Energy just authorized a billion more.

The administration and “green energy” advocates tout solar as a vitally important source of green energy and claim that DOE seed money pouring into companies like these will pay off in the long run. There is certainly some demand for solar panels in the residential and commercial markets, but it’s hard to see how any US company will be able to compete with solar panels built in China given all of that nation’s manufacturing advantages in commodity markets. Solyndra tried to compete in that market and failed miserably, if predictably.

But, as dubious an investment in the residential and commercial market is, investment in the power market is even shakier. Solar power does not, will not and cannot play any significant role in electrical generation for a couple of very good reasons. First, the installed cost of a solar plant is more than double that of an equivalently-sized coal plant, and more than ten times the cost of a gas turbine plant. And then, because the sun doesn’t shine all of the time, solar plants spend most of their time not running. The metric used to determine availability is called the “capacity factor.” This is a measure of how much power a plant actually produces, as compared to the amount of power the plant could produce if it were running at peak capacity every hour of the year. A typical nuclear plant runs at an annual capacity factor of around ninety percent. Coal plants usually operate in the sixty to seventy-five percent range. Most solar plants operate at capacity factors of less than twenty five percent.

There’s no free market incentive to build power plants that are much more expensive to build and operate far less than other technologies. Without the grants, loans, subsidies and tax breaks, no one would choose to use solar energy to enter the power market. Yet, that is the very market that First Solar, SolarReserve, SunPower Corporation and Abengoa SA are going after, and Obama’s Department of Energy is pouring billions and billions into the companies to make it possible.

To provide a little perspective on just how paltry a contribution solar power makes to electric generation, consider that the entire United States’ electric generation fleet totals a little over 1.1 million megawatts of capacity. Of this, about 640 megawatts, or 0.05%, is currently solar. Over the next five years, the Department of Energy projects that over 75,000 megawatts of new capacity of all sorts will come on line, a figure that includes 2,883 megawatts of solar power. That will move solar’s potential contribution up to a whopping 0.3% of the total.

Solar power combines enormous construction costs and pitiful reliability in a way that no other power source does, and the numbers reflect that simple truth. The fact is that solar power can do virtually nothing to replace reliable fossil and nuclear plants. The only thing that solar power has been able to achieve is to separate taxpayers from billions of their hard-earned dollars. As the Solargate scandal spreads, more and more Americans are wondering why that has been allowed to happen.

  • Chezwick_mac

    Krauthammer put it best. He parlayed that Obama is obviously already in deep trouble with the independents and centrists because of his failed policies. The one thing he still has going for him is his likability, his family-man image, and the perception that whatever his political failings, he's a good person. Solyndra is revealing that on the contrary, he's no different than any other corrupt politician (we among the initiated knew that long ago from the Tony Resco fiasco).

    So the importance of the unfolding Solyndra scandal shouldn't be underestimated. Whether or not it results in any resignations or indictments, it is tarnishing the image of the anointed one…and in the process, will hopefully deprive him of his last remaining asset, which is his personal approval rating.

    I don't want to jump the gun, friends,…but November 2012 looks more and more like victory.

  • Yeshayahu Goldfeld

    It would seem to me that the troubles in solar research are a result of interested inimical_machination tactics of the oil and gas industry, which has prevented progress in research_for almost one hundred years.

    • davarino

      This only shows that you are not a scientist and do not understand the details related to solar power generation. There is no conspiracy here. There is no magic research that will in the end be able to generate 1.1 million megawatts with solar panels, even if you blanketed the US with them. The sun only puts out so much energy per square foot and the solar panels can only gather so much of that energy. Solar panels will never be able to gather 100% of the suns rays that fall on the earth. So there is only so much research can do and then there is a finite amount of improvement that doesnt get solar panels where they want to be, competitive with other power generation. I know you non technical types think that Obama is a wizard and can break the surrley bonds of physics and science, but there is only so much that can be done with solar power, but good luck with your crusade

    • al222

      get a grip. the trouble with solar is exactly what the author said it was: the sun doesn't shine all the time. what the author didn't say is how that particular problem is solved: by having a traditional power-generating source as a backup.

      can you say unnecessary redundancy?

    • "gunner"

      "solar energy" has been a sci-fi writer's notion ever since the '40s, and robert heinlein's short story "the roads must roll", however heinlein being a pragmatic and practical man soon dropped the notion. less practical types have now tried to bring it into the real world and we are seeing that, as the figures in the article show, it simply does not work for any but non critical spot applications. no grand theory of "oil and gas interests" conniving to suppress solar, it simply does not work at the macro-economic level without massive government subsidies ultimately coming from taxpayer's pockets.

    • wmiley

      I agree. I even submitted "–gate" as a banished word to the Unicorn Hunters at LSSU. Why not append the suffix "dome", as in Teapot Dome, to all scandals–does anyone even remember what that was?

    • aharris

      Maybe someday we'll have the technology to tap into the sun's energy beyond what mother nature already does, but solar panels aren't it. Right now, our best bet is continure to teach ourselves to replicate the energetic reactions in the sun on the small scale to generate our energy here on earth – you know, fission, fusion, things like that.

  • afgdg

    when will writers realize that adding -gate is not clever?

    • wsk

      It's lazy journalism.

    • "gunner"

      indeed it has gotten very "old" in the years since nixon resigned his presidency, to the point where it describes a tempest in a chamberpot. messy and annoying but of little consequence and soon over, but useful to distract the public attention from more serious villainy, such as the "gunrunner/fast & furious" scandals.

    • aharris

      Not clever, but it works with almost anything like any good suffix.

  • Phillip

    Coordinated, “legal” plunder. High-stakes political patronage. Solyndra was funded first under Bush II, but greatly expanded and used for political mileage by Obama. Remember, folks, none of the political class, Left or Right, are to be trusted. Government, in and of itself, is the problem

    • truebluedetroiter

      Not true about Bush II. They looked into it and decided NOT to invest.

      • wsk

        You are correct, sir

    • Milt

      More importantly, we are left with Fred Upton (R) to lead the invesigation. Until recently, Fred was green's biggest cheerleader and was lobbying Energy Sec. Steven Chu to dole out money to several Michigan solar and wind firms. The ruling class foxes are guarding the ruling class henhouses.

  • jacob

    Sick and tired of Global Warming doom, environmentalists folly, I would like to ask
    why weren't the highly responsibles for the New Orleans hurricane disaster
    throughly investigated …??

    It is my understanding that the Corps of Engineers planned an additional spillway
    but the environmentalist claimed it was going to affect the environment of a one
    inch long little fish, got the sympatetic ear of some Federal judge who stopped the
    project….
    Now, was that insignificant fish worth all the deaths and destruction brought by
    the hurricane…???

    And how come the abject and biased media didn't elaborate on the issue ????

    I WONDER

  • maturin20

    Most green power is a false start.

  • Spider

    Diane Finstein – our senator from California stopped a solar plant from being put in out in the Mojave desert. Why you ask ? You guessed it – environmental concerns.

    • davarino

      And they probablly didnt agree to pay a kickback. You have to pay to play.

  • aharris

    Green energy – You raised lots of green for me, so I'll return a lot more green to you. Green energy!

  • UCSPanther

    Goes to show that you cannot defeat the laws of nature and the laws of physics by throwing money at it, and I doubt that money has gone to R&D to develop better and more efficient photovoltaic cells…

    • aharris

      Even if we could somehow create cells that made use of infrared energy we'd be light years ahead of what we have now.

  • mrbean

    If Obama was passing out billions so what? Not a thing will happen as the RINOs do not have the guts to pursue itto impeachment, and the media will cover for Obama.

  • wsk

    Impeachment will never happen. The media will make it racial and the Repubs don't have the fortitude for that.

  • wsk

    Obama is not stupid and knows exactly what he is doing. To underestimate him will lead to his reelection in 2012. We need to remain engaged.

  • Dispozadaburka

    Now the employees are being paid $13,000.00 (our tax dollars)
    to reeducate them for new jobs.

  • 11bravo

    Herman Cain (my favorite) or whoever the GOP cadidate is will or should point out Obama's Chicago style political tactics. Resko-Wright-Daily-and by election time Emanual. These guys are pay to play knuckle dragging thugs; and Obama and Axelrod are just using the tactics they cut their teeth on.
    The american public will get it, and the dem voters will stay home in droves as all the campaign contributors are found out to be the benifactors of the government loans.
    Look into the Chicago socialists/communist community that has been around since the 60's. Jarret-Washington-et al. It is quite interesting that they made it so far-yet so sad for us.

  • http://www.belouisvuitton.com louis vuitton

    it is funny

  • http://Frontpage Leonidas

    Solar power drives most sattelites.New Jersey gets 20%of it’s electricity from 750000panels ordered by previous governor Corzine.Germany with less sun than the USA gets 20%of it’s electricity from solar power as Danmark does.

    So do not let the oil lobby keep us hostage to oil!

    • Raymond in DC

      Yeah, and the taxpayers provide billions in subsidies to get that power, and still pay higher rates for electricity than we do in the US.

      Solar power has always been, and will remain, a niche element in our energy matrix.

  • A. Ring

    How can anyone combine false statements like "Solar power does not, will not and cannot play any significant role in electrical generation" – check Spain, Germany, Italy, solar is already supplying a large portion of the electricity.
    Where it all began? in the Mojave Desert California during the 1980's, can the US walk away from the chance to quit its addiction to foreign oil?

    Why do solar plants cost twice as coal power plants? because you buy the fuel (solar) in advance!

    More false statements: "solar plants spend most of their time not running" Gemasolar power plant in Spain operates ~70% of the time! SolarResreve Nevada power plant is expected to have a similar capacity factor, and solar power is available in very good correlation to peak demand time when utilities are using the most expensive inefficient and polluting power plants.

    The Coal, Gas, Oil & Nuclear industries have received billions in subsidies and R&D grants & loans, in fact they are still receiving today more money than solar.

    We all know that if we shall continue to drill & burn we will ruin our only planet with harmful gases killing people mainly children from lung diseases, not mentioning the looming global warming catastrophe that has already arrived but we refuse to see.

    Are we dumb enough to deprive future generations from clean air & water, should we consume all the oil in the ground that was millions of years in the making?
    If you do not mind children dying from lung diseases, global warming catastrophe you should definitely oppose solar power but do not say it cannot replace fossil fuel (we all know it does, it will, and it must) say you support the oil industry.

    Solar will reach Grid Parity in many parts of the world in this decade, you cannot stop that, you can only hope the US will not miss its chances, today the American solar industry employs more people than the steel industry! And the job numbers are growing all the time!

    In 2010 solar worldwide installation where around 11GW almost double 209 6.5GW, 2011 is expected to end with 18-20GW solar, wow we should send your article to all those millions of stupid people installing useless solar systems and power plants!

    Have you seen the devastation oil spill brings, can sunlight spill cause such devastation?
    Do you mind all those people dying each year in the coal mines and from illnesses directly related to working in the coal mines?

    I have seen how solar power bring hope to detached areas and how solar power plants supply electricity during peak demand hours, you can falsify the facts but you cannot stop the world changing from fossil to renewable and solar will be a prominent player in supplying our electricity demand and more so for our children.

    • M Schorr

      When there is a (political) will there is a way! Cynics will continue to use the Solyndra downfall to blacken the entire notion of using renewable energies.
      The Bush administration being funded by the oil industry blocked solar power progress in the US using the "Hydrogen Economy" as its fig leaf for sacrificing the well being & health of the American people & future generation.
      More than that the Bush administration for about 9 of the 10 years defiantly denied any notion that global warming exists.
      The Solyndra case should be studied to find out whether foul play or bad judgment was involved but supplying loan guarantees to technology developers is a risky business and some are bound to fail.