Every Green Energy Failure Is News

Photovoltaic panels, Germany. Photograph by Bernd Sieker.

Solar panels (photo: Bernd Sieker)

USA Today (10/17/12) ran a story about a battery manufacturer filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. But the story might as well have been a press release from the Mitt Romney campaign.

“Another Blow for Green Energy” read the headline. Wendy Koch’s piece led off with this:

An electric vehicle battery maker that was awarded $249 million in federal stimulus funds filed for Chapter 11 reorganization on Tuesday, giving GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney potential ammunition to attack President Obama’s green-energy subsidies.

It’s a short article, but it’s hard to avoid the central theme: This is good news for the Romney campaign. Koch writes:

Its Chapter 11 filing will likely spur further GOP criticism, which escalated once solar panel manufacturer Solyndra filed for Chapter 11 protection in September 2011 after receiving more than $500 million in federal loan guarantees.

In the first presidential debate October 3, Romney called four aid recipients “losers,” including Solyndra, Fisker, EV car maker Tesla Motors and auto battery manufacturer Ener1.

“You don’t just pick the winners and losers, you pick the losers,” Romney told Obama in a sharp exchange.

On Tuesday, Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul called A123’s bankruptcy “yet another failure for the president’s disastrous strategy of gambling away billions of taxpayer dollars on a strategy of government-led growth that simply does not work.”

If it’s important to note the campaign ramifications of this story, then perhaps readers should know that Romney claimed that about half of the companies receiving green energy loan guarantees have gone out of business. That is, as you might expect, completely false.

And the failure rate overall is rather low. Time reporter Michael Grunwald “estimates that less than 1 percent of green firms have gone bad in terms of dollar value,” writes Igor Volsky at ThinkProgress.

Stories like this are a reminder of the surplus visibility of green energy “failures.” Republican critics of the White House promote these anecdotes, and the media too often play along–which is why we know so much about the Solyndra flops and relatively little about the success stories. That’s not the main point that David Brooks is making in his column today, but he does make that point:

The federal agencies invested in many winners, but they also invested in some spectacular losers, from Solyndra to the battery maker A123 Systems, which just filed for bankruptcy protection. Private investors can shake off bad investments. But when a political entity like the federal government makes a bad investment, the nasty publicity tarnishes the whole program.

The media, of course, are the ones who choose to write the articles that account for the “nasty publicity.”


About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.