by Richard Caperton
Readers of the Washington Post in the last few days were treated to one of the more egregious examples of why the paper appears so schizophrenic on climate and energy.
On the one hand, readers learn that “Climate Change Means More Frequent Droughts, Floods to Come,” which accurately notes that, “this year has already set a record in terms of billion-dollar disasters for the United States, according to the National Climatic Data Center, with at least 10 disasters so far approaching a total of $50 billion.”
On the other hand, though, readers were treated to a broadside against clean energy from the editorial board. Before going further, let me remind you that clean energy deployment is the only way we will avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change. There are no other solutions. So, the Post’s editorial board would condemn the world to a miserable future of “hell and high water.”
In fact, the paper published an editorial, “A bad month for climate-change skeptics,” the very next day (!) that states:
The U.S. debate on global warming remains fancifully divorced from the scientific discussion. President Obama hardly ever mentions climate change. Republicans’ behavior is much more embarrassing: GOP presidential candidates often dismiss the warnings of experts in favor of conspiracy-drenched denial. The debate should no longer be about whether the world is warming or whether there is reason to act. It must be about how to respond.
And so how embarrassing is it that the Post trashes clean energy funding in an editorial Friday — while never once mentioning climate change, which of course is a key reason for funding solar energy — and then Saturday says we must be talking about how to respond to climate change!
Here’s some point-by-point debunking of the attack on clean energy.
First, the Post perpetuates the myth that clean energy is a niche product that can’t survive without massive government support. Of course, we support efficient, consistent government programs to create a level playing field for these vital emerging industries. But as Climate Progress and others have shown time after time, portraying this sector as some sort of boondoggle is absolutely false.
In many countries, the installed cost of large-scale solar is approaching $2.50 a watt. At $2 a watt, we could cost-effectively meet 30% of the world’s electricity needs. Here’s wind power selling for an astonishing 3 cents per kilowatt-hour. And Here’s a European country getting 45 percent of its power from renewables. Quite the contrary to the Post’s assertion, clean energy is a mainstream investment for utilities and consumers around the world.
The main criticisms of the Post appears are that “the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program privatizes profits and socializes losses.” Think about that, and then go back and read the other Post story about climate change. The real problem is that we’re privatizing profits and socializing environmental and health losses from the fossil fuel industry. After all, what else could climate change be other than “socialized losses?”
The Post’s editors may argue, though, that they don’t dislike clean energy investment, they just dislike the DOE Loan Guarantee Program. That’s fine. But, it’s important to remember that the part of this program that financed Solyndra – “Section 1705” – is done. It was a two-year program that has now drawn to a close. So, even if the Post’s criticisms about the program are valid, it’s not clear what constructive purpose it serves to call the entire program a “scandal” today, when the program no longer exists. We should learn every lesson possible from this program, and we’ll have plenty of time to digest these lessons after a major audit is completed on December 28th.
Finally, the Post concludes that, “as for the $10 billion loan-guarantee loss reserve, that’s $10 billion the country could devote to other uses, including more effective means of limiting carbon emissions or achieving energy security.” Obviously, we all want to spend government money cost-effectively. There’s a limited amount of money that we can use to fight climate change, and the urgency of the situation requires that we spend that money efficiently. The Post seems to imply, however, that this money was wasted. That’s a bold conclusion to draw, given the scope of projects that moved forward because of the Loan Guarantee Program.
Long before the DOE Loan Guarantee Program existed and long before the Solyndra bankruptcy, the government provided incentives for firms to invest in clean energy. These incentives have been a tremendous success and have helped to levelize the playing field between the energy of the future and the energy of the past. The government needs to keep making targeted interventions in energy markets to bridge from the past to the future, and it needs to be able to use every tool available.
— Richard Caperton is a senior policy analyst with the energy team at the Center for American Progress. Joe Romm contributed to this piece.