Solyndra vs. Military Boondoggles

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

I was offline most of last week, which means I missed a lot of the hubbub around the bankruptcy of the solar company Solyndra Inc. The Fremont, Calif.-based company went belly up last month despite the $535 million loan guarantee it received from the Department of Energy in 2009. This has sent Republican critics of renewable energy into a tizzy, who are using the company’s failure to paint all renewable energy investment as a boondoggle.

Now, all of the hype fails to note that the company also got a lot of money from private investors, that it was the Bush administration that made the first moves to provide the company a loan guarantee, that the loan represents just 1.3 percent of the money that DOE has given out, and that all technology ventures come with some level of inherent risk. And some of the leading hype-sellers on the Solyndra subject haven’t been as critical of other energy projects that also suck up a lot of funds with little pay off (see: nuclear loan guarantees, FutureGen).

Time‘s Michael Grunwald has a good take here on one of the biggest hypocrites on this front:

For example, Republican Senator David Vitter of Louisiana has filed a bill to increase scrutiny of taxpayer-financed renewable energy projects. It wouldn’t scrutinize taxpayer-financed non-renewable energy projects, like the nuclear reactors that Vitter so ardently supports. It wouldn’t scrutinize why a certain Louisiana Senator has worked so hard to protect oil companies from liability for their spills. It would just crack down on Big Renewables.

Grunwald goes on to note that Vitter has sought loans for a clean-car start-up, a company that would turn animal fats and used cooking oils into renewable diesel, nuclear power, and so-called “clean-coal.” The Associated Press also covered this issue today. So yeah, Vitter’s criticism rings a little hollow.

See David Roberts, Kevin Drum, and Chris Hayes for other take-downs on the Solyndra hype.

It does appear that White House officials were well aware of the concerns about the firm before handing out the loan, which is problem enough. And now critics are raising questions about President Obama’s relationship with a major investor in the company. But let’s put the spending into perspective. For that, check out this graph from Green For All’s Philip Bump, who took this data about some of the military’s biggest boondoggles (think ballistic missile defense) and compared it to the amount of money lost on Solyndra. It looks like this (via Climate Progress):

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate