While the Wednesday House oversight hearing on Fisker’s failure is ostensibly about whether DOE should have pulled the plug on the loans earlier, it is really about continuation of the House majority’s War on Clean Energy. Because there is broad public support for clean energy, the fossil fuel industry and their allies in Congress have decided not to directly attack it. Instead, they continue to look for phantom “smoking guns” surrounding well-intentioned government loan programs for clean energy companies, like Fisker and Solyndra.
Undoubtedly, it would be ideal if DOE loan staff had perfect 20/20 foresight. The DOE should learn from their mistakes and strive to do better. But, by definition, government clean energy loans are not zero risk; otherwise there would be no need for government loans.
Failures will happen. The real tragedy is that clean energy opponents are cherry-picking the relatively few failures and ignoring the broader successes of the program. And ultimately if the coal and oil industries win their war on clean energy, the losers will be the clean energy economy, our lungs, our climate and our energy security.
The War on Clean Energy is not being fought on a level playing field. The top five oil companies alone made almost $120 in profits in 2012 and still fight to protect their $8 billion in unnecessary federal tax subsidies.
The DOE’s Solid Track Record on Clean Car Loans
According to the DOE, the $529 million Fisker loan represents just 6% of the $8.4 billion in advanced-vehicle loans have been given out to five auto companies. The other loans to firms Ford, Nissan, Tesla and Vehicle Production Group have created or helped to preserve 35,700 jobs and are all scheduled to be repaid. That’s quite a good track record for any clean energy investment portfolio.
House Majority’s Investigations Chill Clean Energy Investments
But the real tragedy of the House investigations of Fisker and Solyndra is the chilling effect on the DOE’s efforts to move forward with new loans. While currently the DOE has $16.6 billion in loan authority for clean cars, it has no active applications under consideration..
According to a recent GAO study, “Most applicants and manufacturers we spoke with told us that, currently, the costs of participating outweigh the benefits” and that they didn’t want to go through a “lengthy and burdensome” application process.
Who can blame them? No one enjoys being grilled by the House Majority committee (I know from experience).
America was built by visionaries, innovators and risk takers. Building the clean energy economy is one of greatest challenges of our generation. To be successful, we need the best and the brightest. And these clean energy pioneers should be encouraged, not punished, for taking risks.
Not every technology and not every company will succeed. The government should learn from its failures. But it would be tragedy if we allow these failures to be used as an excuse to allow the House Majority and the fossil fuels industry to win their War on Clean Energy.