Solargate is just the tip of the iceberg.
This cliché within a mixed metaphor reflects the madness of President Obama’s obsession with “green jobs.” It would be bad enough if this disaster were limited to possible criminality at Solyndra — the solar-panel maker that Obama stimulated with loan guarantees, despite repeated warnings about its rickety finances.
“The true engine of economic growth will always be companies like Solyndra,” Obama proclaimed at its Fremont, Calif., headquarters on May 26, 2010. Not quite. Solyndra’s August 31 bankruptcy transformed 1,100 green jobs into pink slips and marinated taxpayers in $527 million of red ink.
But many green-jobs programs that have not been raided by the FBI — as Solyndra was last September 8 — nonetheless are fiscally reckless enough to merit a five-alarm national scandal.
Consider these other green bankruptcies:
‐SpectraWatt, Inc., of Hopewell Junction, N.Y., scored $500,000 from the Energy Department in June 2009 and $150,000 from the National Science Foundation in June 2010, Bloomberg reports. Last August 19, the solar-power company went bust.
‐Mountain Plaza, Inc., went bankrupt in 2003. Nonetheless, its “truck-stop electrification” technology won $424,000 in EPA stimulus funds administered by Tennessee’s transportation department. Yet again, Mountain Plaza filed for bankruptcy in June 2010.
‐Notwithstanding its February 2009 bankruptcy and default on a $58 million loan from BNP Paribas, Wisconsin-based Olsen’s Mill Acquisition was stimulated with $10 million in January 2010, along with Olsen’s Crop Services. Jeff Bollier of the OshKosh Northwestern reported that Olsen’s Mill “buys crops grown by farmers across the eastern and central parts of Wisconsin and sells it to end users such as Utica Energy’s ethanol plant on State Highway 91.” ADM purchased the defunct operation’s assets last month.
Beyond outright bankruptcies, Team Obama has subsidized projects that may be neither fraudulent nor failed, per se, but severely abuse taxpayers:
‐As the Wall Street Journal reports, cash-strapped Americans are changing babies’ diapers less frequently and doubling down on diaper-rash ointment. What a perfect time for Team Obama to subsidize foreign solar companies! Energy last June 18 gave Solar Trust, an American subsidiary of Germany’s Solar Millennium, a $2.1 billion loan guarantee for a Blythe, Calif., solar-power facility. Last June, Energy handed Spain’s Abengoa Solar a $1.2 billion guarantee for its Mojave (Calif.) Solar Project and backstoppped $1.45 billion last December for Abengoa’s Gila Bend, Ariz., outpost.
‐On September 28, Energy approved a $737 million loan guarantee for Nevada’s SolarReserve Project. It promises 600 construction jobs at $1.23 million each and 45 permanent jobs at $16.4 million per position. Energy also guaranteed $337 million for Sempra Energy’s Mesquite Solar Project in Arizona. Its 300 construction jobs cost $1.12 million each, while its seven permanent positions equal $48.1 million per job created. The only good news here is that this program ended September 30. So its damage is done.
‐In Seattle, an Energy grant provided $20 million to weatherize homes. Sixteen months later, this outlay has generated 14 administrative jobs at $1.42 million apiece. How many homes have been retrofitted? Three.
Energy’s Better Buildings Neighborhood Program has fared better in Toledo, Kansas City, and Phoenix. In those locales, $65 million has underwritten 72 jobs. That comes to $902,777 each. Overall, this initiative has spent $508 million in 41 states and “created or saved” 600 jobs — a real bargain at $846,666 apiece.
According to Fox News’s Dan Springer, Seattle’s hourly prevailing wage is $12, but this program’s contractors must pay workers $21 per hour, plus pension and benefits. Also, retrofits average $10,000 per home and typically slice annual power bills by $300. Thus, weatherization usually pays off in 33 years. Who stays still that long?
Does Energy hang its head in shame at such fiscal bedwetting? Hardly.
“While communities are advancing their programs at different rates, we are pleased with the progress,” the department recently crowed.
Citing Energy’s data, Investor’s Business Daily reports that subsidies for all energy sources averaged $1.65 per megawatt-hour in 2007. Wind and solar: $24. Similarly, while Obama “invests” up to $48.1 million per job, private employers hire the average individual for $58,510 annually, the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates.
This entire fiasco helps illustrate what 19th-century French political economist Frederic Bastiat called “that which is seen, and that which is not seen.” While politicians cut ribbons at ceremonies outside green-energy facilities, none will appear at a politically incorrect coal, natural-gas, or petroleum plant that got no loan guarantees — even to create more jobs more cheaply. Far worse, no one sees the companies, products, and jobs that never emerged because Washington politicians vacuumed the pockets of entrepreneurs who might have deployed private capital more productively and innovatively.
When will liberals join the conservative choir that loudly sings against this green-jobs fantasy? While most free-marketeers would convert these funds to tax relief or debt reduction, only blind liberals cannot see that this extravagance impoverishes their favorite causes.
Every dollar that chases a money-losing windmill is a dollar that cannot fund Head Start.
Every million that spawns only one job is a million that cannot finance 270 average Pell Grants for needy college students.
And every billion that vanishes into green bankruptcy is a billion that cannot help impoverished Americans heat their homes with government assistance.
It would be refreshing to see liberals fight as hard for poor people as for solar panels.
Undeterred, the president chases the sun, like a motorist speeding west across the desert as dusk approaches. Obama swears that the sun is within his grasp. Yet it stubbornly remains just beyond the horizon.
Too bad Barack Obama won’t finance his self-defeating solar road trip with his own money.
— New York commentator Deroy Murdock is a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.