Before there was Solyndra, there was Serious Energy. The company was personally hyped by President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Senator Roland Burris (remember him?) as a “green jobs” company funded by Obama’s 2009 stimulus. Today, Serious Energy is closing factories and laying off workers–and the Federal Trade Commission has found it made false claims about the energy efficiency of its products.
The story of Serious Energy is a metaphor for Obama’s political career, featuring strong-arm union tactics, corrupt Chicago politicians, crony capitalism, and media propaganda. Back in May 2010, it was already clear that Serious Energy was a fiasco, one Breitbart News called the “Weatherization Undergound.” Two years and hundreds of millions of dollars later, the company is near the end of its natural trajectory as an Obama prop.
The story began with ShoreBank, the defunct Chicago bank that was the darling of the Chicago left. ShoreBank specialized in lending in poor neighborhoods, and was close to members of the Obama administration, as well as to the Clintons. But the bank ran into trouble when the housing bubble burst. Democrats lobbied for a bailout, which was partly thwarted by Tea Party protests. The government eventually shut it down in 2010.
Along the way, however, Shorebank received $35 million in stimulus credits as part of the “green jobs” focus of the Obama administration, which was then overseen by Van Jones. Shorebank required low-income borrowers to conduct an energy audit of their homes, in return for a “free,” energy-efficient refrigerator. Shorebank also required their borrowers to “weatherize” their homes by installing “green” windows to save energy.
One of the local producers of “green” windows was Republic Windows and Doors, a company that failed in 2008–and which became an instant cause célèbre for Obama, his union allies, and his friends in the left-wing media. Workers, with the support of the SEIU, staged an illegal strike inside the Republic factory in December 2008. President-elect Obama endorsed the illegal strike, as did many fellow Chicago-area politicians.
Republic’s main creditor was Bank of America–a favorite target of the SEIU. In one of his last acts before being busted by federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald for attempting to sell Obama’s soon-to-be-vacated U.S. Senate seat, Gov. Rod Blagojevich (above) declared the State of Illinois would withdraw all of its business from Bank of America unless it bailed out Republic. The company was eventually bought in 2009 by Serious Energy.
The White House soon made Serious Energy a symbol of “green jobs” as well as the stimulus. (It may have helped that the official responsible for the stimulus-funded weatherization program, Assistant Secretary of Energy Cathy Zoi, was married to a senior executive at Serious Energy.) Vice President Biden visited the Chicago factory calling it a “potentially thriving business that can lead this country” (see video below).
Rachel Maddow of MSNBC touted the story as a victory for unions and for “green collar jobs.” With Obama’s endorsement and taxpayer dollars, Serious Energy raised serious–and risky–private capital. But “green windows” turned out to be neither green nor profitable. The company is now focusing on selling software and soundproof drywall. And the Chicago factory is about to scrapped–perhaps like the Obama administration itself.