Back in May, I used Obama’s visit to a solar plant in California as a springboard to launch into a lament about the unsustainable nature of the “green-energy economy.” I figured that at some point the plant, like so many bankrupt ethanol companies before it, would illustrate my point quite nicely. I just didn’t realize it would happen so soon:
SAN FRANCISCO — Solyndra, a Silicon Valley solar-panel maker that won half a billion dollars in federal aid to build a state-of-the-art robotic factory, plans to announce on Wednesday that it will shut down an older plant and lay off workers.
The cost-cutting move, which will reduce the company’s previously announced production capacity, is a sign of the notable shift in the prospects for cutting-edge American solar companies, which now face intense price competition from Chinese manufacturers that use more established photovoltaic technologies.
Just seven weeks ago, Solyndra opened Fab 2, a $733 million factory in Fremont, Calif., to make its high-tech solar panels. The new plant was supposed to be the first phase of a rapid expansion of the company.
Instead, Solyndra has decided to shutter the old plant and postpone plans to expand Fab 2, which was built with a $535 million federal loan guarantee.
I’m sure some will argue that the lesson here is that we need either to erect protectionist walls to keep Chinese solar panels out or to follow China’s lead and turn our entire economy into a stimulus package. But erecting protectionist walls against cheap Brazilian ethanol has done nothing to make that industry self-sustaining, and I’m pretty sure that Tuesday’s election was a referendum on the second idea. My suggestion? Cut our losses and get the government out of the energy business. Today.