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“Program That Backed Solyndra Now Showing Successes,” proclaims a December 29 article by Henry C. Jackson of the Associated Press. He finds an example of success in Hugoton, Kansas, site of a new cellulosic ethanol refinery funded in part by a loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy. The same program, Mr. Jackson notes, “funded high-profile flops like Solyndra.” In May, 2010, President Obama claimed Solyndra would make enough solar panels each year to generate 500 megawatts of electricity. The next year Solyndra went bankrupt.
Besides Solyndra, Mr. Jackson explains, “three other subsidized companies went bust at a cost of $780 million.” The others include Evergreen Solar Inc. and SpectraWatt. Mr. Jackson does not name them, but taxpayers can get details of their bankruptcy, and Solyndra’s, from Matt Hopkins and William Lazonick of the UMass Center for Industrial Competitiveness. They note that Solyndra “was the poster child of the Obama administration’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA),” and the first company to receive federal loan guarantees under the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
The cellulosic ethanol refinery in Hugoton, meanwhile, was built by the Spanish company Abengoa and cost $500 million. U.S. federal loan guarantees kicked in $132 million of the cost. The plant has a workforce of 75 and an annual payroll of $5 million, producing up to 25 million gallons of ethanol from non-edible waste. Champions of the plant include Senator Pat Roberts and former Senator Sam Brownback, both Republicans who voted against the stimulus.
Mr. Jackson describes development in Hugoton as “booming,” with grocery stores and motels going up, and many new people in town. He cites the Cogentrix plant in Colorado as another success and recycles Department of Energy claims that the loan program “has created or saved roughly 35,000 permanent jobs” and overall will generate “a profit of between $5 billion and $6 billion over the next 20 to 25 years.”
Based on Solyndra, which wound up as fodder for an art exhibit in Berkeley, California, taxpayers have good reason to wonder. In August 2012, a year after Solyndra shut down, its website still proclaimed: “Solyndra’s power solutions offer strong return on investment and make great business sense.”