The shuttering of a California solar panel maker that was backed by $535 million in federal loans is sparking concern about the tens of billions of dollars the Obama administration has so far invested in clean energy companies.
Government auditors are questioning whether the administration may have made other bad bets on clean energy. . . .
Solyndra, which was a signature project of President Obama’s initiative to help create clean energy jobs, announced it was filing for bankruptcy protection Wednesday. The company said it would shut its Bay Area plant and lay off 1,110 workers.
Solyndra was the first company to get a taxpayer-backed loan in the early weeks of the new Obama administration, but there are more than 40 other clean tech firms and projects the Energy Department has since backed or agreed to back with more than $38 billion in taxpayer.
Well, it turns out government may have no particular talent for picking winners and losers. But government does have a talent for finding familiar faces: “Solyndra’s lead investors were primarily funds associated with a major Obama fundraiser, billionaire George Kaiser.”
The episode is significant for several reasons. First, it suggests a viable line of attack for Republicans, especially for Mitt Romney, who is touting his business expertise, that Obama doesn’t understand how to spur viable private-sector jobs. He understands crony capitalism. He understands growing the federal government. But he really doesn’t comprehend the needs and concerns of private employers. Second, it confirms that a great deal of the “green jobs” infatuation is puffery. If firms can compete and thrive in the marketplace, why do we need the taxpayers to foot the bill? And if they aren’t viable we are wasting taxpayers’ money. (I imagine there is some editing in the president’s job speech to eliminate embarrassing statements, like the one he made in May 2010 when he touted Solyndra as the engine that “in turn will generate business for companies throughout our country who will create jobs supplying this factory with parts and materials. So there’s a ripple effect. It’s not just localized to this area.”)
But the Solyndra situation is emblematic of a much larger issue for the president: He appears to be in over his head. The White House and loyal pundits have struggled mightily to convince Americans that Obama’s agenda was moderate and that the raft of new regulations (from the new consumer protection agency to Dodd-Frank), the car company bailouts, the huge spending sprees and Obamacare are modest steps. The electorate didn’t generally buy that, and indeed the backlash spawned the Tea Party movement. But something that Democrats, Republicans and independents can all agree is that he’s failing. His pet green company goes into bankruptcy. His speech rollout was a mess. The jobs picture is bleak. In big and small ways the theme is driven home: He’s doing a lousy job.