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As Congress Continues Its Witch Hunt, Here Are Five Things You Should Know About Clean Energy Investments

By Stephen Lacey

"As Congress Continues Its Witch Hunt, Here Are Five Things You Should Know About Clean Energy Investments"

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In an attempt to keep the political war against renewable energy in the headlines, Republicans are holding another hearing to question the value of government investments in the sector.

Looks like ten political sideshows on Solyndra weren’t enough.

If tomorrow morning’s hearing were being used as a chance to objectively assess where the industry stands, that would be one thing. But the title of the meeting gives away the real political intent: “The Obama Administration’s Green Energy Gamble: What Have All The Taxpayer Subsidies Achieved?

Actually, those green energy investments have yielded substantial returns. And before the political grandstanding begins in the House of Representatives tomorrow, here are five important things you should know about how promotion of clean energy has supported American businesses and consumers:

1. The 1603 grant program supported up to 75,000 jobs and 23,000 renewable energy projects during the height of the recession. When the recession hit, it was very difficult for project developers to find banks that were willing to utilize tax credits. So a cash grant program was created to give companies an easier way to finance projects. While it’s very difficult to know the exact influence of the grant on each project, the program played a major role in maintaining momentum — helping support $25 billion in gross economic activity, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

2. The production tax credit helps leverage up to $20 billion in private investment annually. With this key tax credit in place, the wind industry has dropped costs by 90% over the last few decades. It’s helped states like Iowa reach 20% wind penetration — bringing that state over 215 businesses that support 5,000 workers. Across the rest of the U.S., the entire industry supports 75,000 jobs, with 30,000 in manufacturing. However, up to 37,000 of those jobs could be at risk due Congressional lawmakers’ inability to extend the tax credit.

3. The loan guarantee program is expected to cost $2 billion less than budgeted. This program has gotten a black eye due to the bankruptcies of a few companies — most famously Solyndra — that received guarantees. But according to John McCain’s National Finance Chairman, Herb Allison, the cost to taxpayers will likely be far less than initially thought. In fact, over the last 20 years of experience, the U.S. government has shown a knack for managing risk — with loans and loan guarantee programs only costing tax payers 94 cents for every $100 dollars invested.

4. Home weatherization grew 1000% from April to June of 2011, creating 14,800 jobs. After a slow ramp-up, efficiency programs supported by the stimulus package have helped weatherize hundreds of thousands of homes. In addition to supporting the retrofits of individual homes, the Obama administration has supported the Better Buildings Initiative, a program that has leveraged billions of private dollars to upgrade more than 4 billion square feet of public and private buildings in the next two years. That’s enough demand to support over 100,000 jobs.

5. ARPA-E has supported dozens of potentially groundbreaking technologies in advanced materials, renewable fuels, electricity generation, waste heat, and battery storage. Helping enhance America’s lead in technological innovation, the Advanced Research Research Projects Agency for Energy — initially funded through the stimulus package — has helped inventors, companies, and university labs boost their work. This program has immense bi-partisan support for promoting the “innovative research that makes America great and has fueled our economic growth for generations.”

Despite these successes, Republicans continue milking the Solyndra bankruptcy for an election-year story that doesn’t hold up — dragging the rest of the clean energy industry into the mud.

The sector has gone through some high-profile shake-ups and bankruptcies, so it’s the duty of lawmakers to understand how tax payer dollars are being deployed. That’s a supportable endeavor. But holding yet another hearing to lambast the President for a so-called “gamble” in clean energy isn’t productive for anyone.

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11 Responses to As Congress Continues Its Witch Hunt, Here Are Five Things You Should Know About Clean Energy Investments

  1. fj says:

    The Republican model depends on climate change denial and the big non-rational lie more and more removed from reality as climate change accelerates changes to the world around us far removed from what we once knew sufficient to require that intelligence and rationality prevail.

  2. SecularAnimist says:

    Stephen Lacey wrote: “… the political grandstanding begins … for an election-year story … isn’t productive for anyone …”

    With all due respect, it is not merely “political grandstanding” and it is not about “an election-year”.

    It’s an all-out attack by the Republican Party on behalf of their “partners”, the fossil fuel corporations, to destroy the renewable energy industries.

    And it is in fact, extremely “productive” — for ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, etc.

  3. Rich2201 says:

    The problem that the FF industry has is that its market cap is valued by the amount of fossil fuels left in the ground that they can exploit (e.g. proven reserves, etc.). Their stock options would deflate if anything less than all the recoverable oil or gas were expected to be extracted.

    The problem for civilization is that if hundreds of millions of years of FF are extracted at the current pace, we are headed for a Brave New Planet that will support a significantly smaller human population along with a mass extinction event. The last time CO2 levels rose to these levels, it caused an event known as “the great dying.”

  4. As long as the MainStream Media continues to treat science as a political issue there is little reason for students to really pay attention. When students fail to learn, those with the deep pockets of a David Koch can, with impunity, continue to treat science as a curiosity to be relegated to PBS one night a week and sponsored by Koch.

    I won’t contribute any more to PBS until NOVA does a real, serious program on the future of a warming globe. But, with Koch sponsoring NOVA, that isn’t going to happen.

  5. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    The GOP are owned by fossil fuel interests who are only interested in extracting the last dollar from our pockets whatever the social cost.

    Our utter unwillingness to face any unpleasant truth is the surest sign our current civilization is in it’s end game. Something else will arise, but the transition is not going to be nice.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      You are certainly correct concerning the end of the current global arrangements, although I’d hesitate to call it a ‘civilization’. The combination of multiple ecological crises, Peak Everything, economic collapse under debt and grotesque inequality and the geo-political devastation being wrought by the dying Western global Empire is sufficient in itself, but the inevitability of it all is set in stone by the nature of the ruling global elite. The triumph of the deracinated, violent, obscurantist, denialist, paranoid and misanthropic Right, which is doing everything possible to prevent humanity saving itself, is our species’ death-knell. If we are represented to posterity and the cosmos by the likes of the Kochtopus and the other tentacles of the plutocracy, if that is the best humanity can manage, then we are not only doomed but also thoroughly deserve our fate.

  6. MadMartha says:

    The fossil folks are about to get their comeuppance. The market is flooded with natural gas, depressing prices below the cost of production, and the next time they have to report reserve values, those values will have dropped like a rock for the same reserves. I hope the shakeout gets at least as much attention as Solyndra.

    • Rakesh Malik says:

      You’re right, they will get their comeuppance.

      Unfortunately, we live in the same world that they do, so we’ll get it right along with them.

  7. Forest says:

    Denialists act as they do because of one of the following: they are paid to be against renewable energy and legislation centering on climate change; they are scientifically illiterate; they think that their creator has given them the right to exploit the planet at will, for their own benefit; or they have conjured up a great conspiracy of communists, the UN, science academies and environmentalists seeking world domination concurrent with the elimination of all liberty and freedom.

    Trying to converse with denialists is not possible; they intentionally speak a foreign language that only they understand; the key noun being money and the key principle being self-interest.

  8. MapsofWorld says:

    Find Exciting New Infographic And Analysis About The Threat Posed By Global Warming – http://www.mapsofworld.com/poll/can-global-warming-be-contained.html

  9. Chris Winter says:

    In a somewhat related story, Paul Krugman, in “Extremists and Enablers”, describes yet another instance of MSM false balance.

    Krugman says:

    “Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, two highly respected Congressional analysts with a reputation for being nonpartisan, have a book documenting the fact that our political dysfunction is very one-sided — it’s Republican extremism, not “both sides do it”, that’s at fault. Sales of their book have been very good, and there’s a lot of public interest. But guess what? They can’t get on TV to promote their book.”

    The Washington Post column he links to is here:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/post/only-one-partys-to-blame-dont-tell-the-sunday-shows/2012/05/14/gIQAXOcPPU_blog.html