If you still own shares in solar energy it’s probably a sign that you’ve been in the sun too long: the sector is tanking – and deservedly so – as reality dawns that this is a Potemkin industry, an Enron of a con-trick, whose survival depends not on the energy it generates but on the subsidies it squeezes from the taxpayer.
Consider Exhibit A: the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the California desert. This $2.2 billion project, heavily backed with federal grants by the Obama administration, is absolutely brilliant at killing birds. According to some estimates it accounts for 28,000 a year (the workers at the plant nickname them “streamers” because they fall from the sky like burning comets), though the company denies this. What it’s not so good at is the job it was designed for: generating electricity.
It has failed to produce sufficient quantities of its exorbitantly expensive power (it charges between $135 and $200 per megawatt hour; the market rate for conventional electricity is $35 per megawatt hour) as required by its contract with PG&E Corp and may have to shut down unless bailed out by the California state authorities.
Exhibit B is the solar energy firm Abengoa, now on the verge of the biggest corporate collapse in Spanish history, after the Spanish government decided to turn off the subsidy tap essential to its survival.
This was the company that in 2010 President Obama was boasting about having lured to the US as though it represented some kind of major coup.
Announcing government support for clean-energy projects, President Obama hailed a Spanish company, saying its new solar technology would supply tens of thousands of American homes with renewable power, while spurring local employment.
“It’s good news,” Mr. Obama said in 2010, “that we’ve attracted a company to our shores to build a plant and create jobs right here in America.”
Yes, “green jobs” in the “clean-energy” are very easy to create when you’re forcing the taxpayer to subsidise them to the tune of a minimum of $82,000 a year and – in some cases – $2,000,000 a year. This is what happened with Obama’s Green Jobs program.
Like its ugly twin the wind industry, solar is entirely dependent for its survival on government subsidy. Almost inevitably this tends towards crony capitalism and spectacular misallocation of resources. We now have a truly absurd situation whereby not just in California and Nevada but even in overcast, rainy places where the sun almost never shines – Germany, for example; and Maine – people are being bribed by the government to put up solar panels which generate next to no useful energy but which are very good at putting up the price of electricity for everyone else.
This cannot go on forever. Sooner or later – as has already happened in Spain – taxpayers are going to wake up to the fact that there are better ways of having their money spent for them than on gigantic anti-bird death rays.