4 1/2 Big Lies About Solar Power

by Solar Pioneer on October 5, 2012

Solar power opposition in the coal, oil, gas and nuclear power industries, along with their political lackeys, are using 4 big lies to impede the expansion of renewable energy.

1.  Solar is Only for Liberal, Hippy Environmentalists

Image from theblogaboutcars.com

This lie is one of the most demonstrably false and yet it still pervades the public’s consciousness. The inconvenient truth (for the perpetrators of this lie)  is that Americans across the political spectrum are going green, and they do not cite concern for the planet as their primary motivator. A recent study commissioned by the nation’s largest home solar company, Sunrun, found that nine out of ten Americans of both voting persuasions said they had made what can be considered ‘green’ changes to their lifestyles over the last five years.  The survey also showed that even though only 33 percent of Romney voters believe in global warming, they are more likely to have made what can be described as ‘green’ home improvements in the past five years than Obama supporters (64% vs. 58%).

While the survey revealed that only 3% of Romney voters and 2% of Obama voters installed solar-power systems in the last 5 years, 27% expressed interest in installing one in the future.  Further, a second survey conducted recently by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) shows that 90% of voters believe solar energy is important for the United States.

“This data shows us that a new shade of green is emerging, and it’s not dominated by any particular side of the political spectrum,” said Sunrun President and co-Founder Lynn Jurich. “Americans are motivated by savings, and now there are environmental choices that are also the smartest choices for your bank account.” Jurich calls this “Pocketbook Environmentalism,” where the benefit to the environment is meaningful to the consumer, but not the deciding factor.

Because green is the new green.

2.  The 2009 Stimulus Package Investment Failed

In a well-written article devoted to debunking this particular lie, David Roberts calls “The failed stimulus” one of the Republican’s most irritating but successful verbal tics. One that, as Roberts also points out, the media generally went along with. Even Democrats seem to see the stimulus as an unfortunate but necessary step to halt the tailspin of our troubled economy. Very few are hailing it for what it was: enormously successful, well-executed, and not rife with scandal.

2009 stimulus
Image from reportergary.com

One of the few who recognize and are reporting about the success of the stimulus is the award-winning journalist Michael Grunwald, who wrote the book The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era. According to Grunwald, the stimulus allocated $90 billion to invest in energy, which leveraged $100 billion from the private sector.

In the debate on Wednesday, September 3rd, Romney manipulated the number $90 billion to make it seem like that was how much solar and wind energy received in tax breaks. Unfortunately, according to Van Jones – who helped oversee the Obama administration’s clean energy efforts – the real number is more like $21 billion. The rest went to advanced batteries for electric cars, energy efficiency retrofits for homes, job training, and high speed rail.

Former President Bill Clinton is another who sees the value in what the stimulus has accomplished. In a recent address at Solar Power International, Clinton reminded the crowd that the solar industry employs over 100,000 people (which is more than the coal industry) and that, even during the recession, the solar market grew 7% per year. This last number is particularly impressive when compared to the overall economy, which grew a measly .7% per year during this time.

3.  Solar Power Can Only Compete Because of Outrageous Subsidies

The thought behind this lie is simple; because the growth of solar power was spurred on by government incentives, that it cannot compete without them. People who espouse this view often conclude by saying that we should remove all renewable incentives so that renewable energy can “compete on even footing.” It’s about fairness, they say. Government subsidies are creating an unbalanced market.

Image of all US military bases in the Middle East, from antiwar.com

During the same address at SPI, President Clinton revealed that the government spends $22 on subsidies for the coal, oil, and nuclear industries for every $1 that’s invested in clean energy (This does not count the cost of propping up dictatorships, fighting wars in oil rich regions of the Middle East and Africa, or protecting tanker routes). He also cited a study from the Baker Center (an organization named for Republican Senator Howard H. Baker), which states that the total incentives received by the solar industry is perfectly consistent with the amount of aid received by traditional energy industries.

4.  Solyndra’s Bankruptcy Proves that Solar is a Money Pit

The name “Solyndra” has become a rallying cry for anti-solar advocates in the Republican party – as evidenced by the “No More Solyndras Act,” which passed the House along party lines in mid September, 2012. And yet, the loan guarantees given to Solyndra were not corrupt, or even misguided, they were just a bet – an investment – that didn’t pan out.

Solyndra’s technology was new and disruptive. Their business plan made total sense when the world was looking at a shortage in silicone wafers which had cause the price of solar panels to increase from 2004 to 2008.  Solydra technology promised to produce solar power for 1/2 the cost of conventional panels. Like so many other promising technologies, the devil was in the details and Solyndra stumbled along the way and the cost per watt was not as low as they projects. The reason Solyndra failed  was that their competitive advantage evaporated; by the middle of 2011 the cost of solar panels is less than 1/2 of what it was in 2008.

Think about it this way: during Romney’s time at Bain Capital he made money on  80% of his investment –an excellent track record by any standards (although many of these companies later went bankrupt). The federal loan guarantee program for green energy startups has an even higher success rate than that and yet the program is constantly being attacked for this single investment that didn’t work out. Don’t be fooled by the selective “facts” spun by fork tongued politicians who defend the risks that investment bankers make as a necessary component of job creation are the ones attacking the loan guarantee program!

Clinton put it succinctly, “We’ve had oil subsidies since 1916, but they sink dry wells and still get the tax credit.”

4.5 No Wars Have Ever Been Fought Over Solar Power

This one is only half a lie. While no territorial wars have been fought over solar, the media has been abuzz for a long time about our “trade war” with China. And indeed, it is reminiscent of a cold war style arms race, only this time we are racing to see where the center of solar manufacturing will be located. The difference in this war is that many congressional Republicans, backed by oil interest such as the Koch brothers, are declaring that now is the time to Cut and Run.

Image from thinkprogress.org

The Chinese, on the other hand, are making solar power production a central part of their new Five-Year Plan. According to thinkprogress.org, China wants to hit 10 Gigawatts (GW) of installed solar by 2015 and 50 GW by 2050.

Why They Lie

Although the lies being told about the solar industry are frustrating, and dangerous, they are also a form of validation. Solar power is a threat and dirty energy is scared. So they lie, they lie desperately and disparagingly, hoping to neutralize the threat, but it isn’t going to work.

As Clinton said, “We’re going to win the battle and the only questions are when, where, and how.”

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Scott October 10, 2012 at 12:32 pm

1 big lie about fossil fuels: the valuation of their share price. This report needs wide disemination: http://www.carbontracker.org/ Disinvestment would be rational consumer behaviour in so many ways.


mg October 16, 2012 at 3:02 am

The fact is the solar industry CAN NOT compete without subsidies. Solar power is an incredibly small compared to the rest of traditional (oil, coal, etc.) energy industry so the “$22 for every $1″ is misleading. While this is true wouldn’t you expect it to be since it is a comparatively tiny industry. “…solar industry employs over 100,000 people…”. Great. But on its own Shell employs around 22,000 in the U.S.. That’s one company. I haven’t heard anyone use Solyndra as an example of why the solar industry is a joke it just happened to be one of the companies Obama laundered campaign funds through. And the stimulus was a dismal failure. 185,000 dollars a job is a conservative estimate with the real number probably >200k. While around “only” 21 billion was given to solar industry in tax breaks the rest went to “advanced batteries for electric cars, energy efficiency retrofits for homes, job training, and high speed rail”. Great so 79 billion of the 90 was wasted on this instead of that. The bottom line is that until these technologies are competitive and viable alternatives they are just a waste of money. And for all you people who want to be “green” and “energy indepent” from the middle east, take a look at where the largest cobalt, nickle, and other rare materials are located. China, Africa, Russia, and the middle east wins again. So instead of having us by the balls with oil they’ll have them with rare earth metals. We can drill domestically for oil; we can’t however invent massive mineral deposits.


Mike B October 16, 2012 at 4:02 pm

YAY! Yup, Clinton is right. True will out!


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