Failure Of Green Energy Companies Doesn’t Mean We Don’t Need Green Energy

image of President Obama visits a wind turbine factory
President Obama visits a wind turbine factory

A couple of my conservative friends post on Facebook with glee every time a green energy company that received government loans fails or if the Chevy Volt has problems. They are against spending any tax payer money on research or production of technology that will free us from a dying petroleum based energy system. They are missing the point. The failure of specific companies doesn’t mean the technology is faulty. Government support for innovation of technology is actually a common practice and is one reason we enjoy some of the things we have in our lives like computers. It would also strengthen our country against the evildoers.

One of my conservative friends posted me a link to this article:

It is no secret that President Obama’s and green-energy supporters’ (from both parties) foray into venture capitalism has not gone well. But the extent of its failure has been largely ignored by the press. Sure, single instances garner attention as they happen, but they ignore past failures in order to make it seem like a rare case.

The truth is that the problem is widespread. The government’s picking winners and losers in the energy market has cost taxpayers billions of dollars, and the rate of failure, cronyism, and corruption at the companies receiving the subsidies is substantial. The fact that some companies are not under financial duress does not make the policy a success. It simply means that our taxpayer dollars subsidized companies that would’ve found the financial support in the private market.

President Obama’s Taxpayer-Backed Green Energy Failures

Contrary to my conservative friend’s belief, just because some green energy businesses have failed doesn’t mean the technology is faulty.

Government support for green energy is a good thing due to climate change and we reportedly reached peak oil in 2006. That means we will see higher costs to produce oil and that will trickle down to all finished goods made with oil like plastic and increase transportation costs of goods like food. Any country that is dependent on resources outside its borders is vulnerable so research on green energy is a matter of economic health and national security. 

In 2008 the United States imported oil from 10 countries currently on the State Department’s Travel Warning List, which lists countries that have “long-term, protracted conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable.” These nations include Algeria, Chad, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. Our reliance on oil from these countries could have serious implications for our national security, economy, and environment.

Oil Dependence Is a Dangerous Habit

Innovation in the green energy industry is still in the young stage and would benefit from government backing. Conservatives seem to believe that a technology isn’t viable unless it can be sustained by the “market”. History shows that this idea is wrong.

One huge example is semiconductors. Government funding led to the technology you are using to read this post right now:

The federal government contributed over half of all R&D funds [for the microelectronics industry] until well into the 1970’s. The military in turn accounted for the greatest proportion of federal R&D expenditures in the industry for some time after the war (WWII). In only one year, 1966, did the military’s portion of the federal R&D spending fall below 50%

By creating, supporting, and disseminating diverse approaches to the technical innovation in semiconductor microelectronics, government agencies were extremely important in the overall development of the microelectronics industry.

Government Support of the Semiconductor Industry

Also from the 40’s through the 60’s there was a battle between what form microelectronics would take – modular, thin-film, molecular, and integrated. But ironically while integrated circuits became the dominate form, the other forms also could be applied to the integrated format.

Back then the government picked a lot of winners and losers and no one complained. There was not a consumer market for semiconductors like we have now. Imagine if the conservative thinking today was around back in the early days of semiconductors. Would we even have computers we have now? I doubt it.

We need to go full go on government support of green energy development much like we did for the atom bomb, putting a man on the moon, and the arms build up during the cold war. Sure there will be some failures but the point is the long term solution and that takes investment. 

For those conservatives who think any investment should be based on a strong business plan I just need to mention the dotcom bubble of the 1990’s when billions of dollars were spent on startups who’s only accomplishment was having expensive furniture in their loft offices.

Government funding could help unleash the power of our R&D as it has in the past and finally break us of our dependence on fossil fuels. If that happens then no country could touch us.

Why do conservatives fear energy independence?