Report: Billions spent on more than 1,500 solar projects

Michael Bastasch | Contributor

A Government Accountability Office report shows that there were 65 federal initiatives to support solar technology in 2010 and 2011.

During that time, officials from six federal government agencies reported obligating $2.6 billion for more than 1,500 solar energy projects, with more than 90 percent of these obligations coming from the Department of Energy.

Of the $2.3 billion the DOE spent those two year, most — $1.7 billion — went to fund the Section 1705 loan guarantee program, the very same program that gave taxpayer backed loans to failed solar companies like Solyndra and Abound Solar.

Solyndra received a $535 million loan guarantee in September 2009 and subsequently filed for bankruptcy in August 2011 — the company laid off 1,100 workers, and prompted a congressional investigation.

Abound Solar closed a $400 million DOE loan guarantee in December 2010, and after years of selling reportedly faulty solar panels and drawing on $70 million of the loan guarantee, the company declared bankruptcy in June 2012. Abound’s bankruptcy happened just seven months after the company’s CEO called them the “anti-solyndra.”

Solar energy has been a key component of President Obama’s “all-of-the-above” strategy to achieve energy independence and to create jobs.

“We’ve doubled the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar right here in Nevada and all across the country,” Obama said at a campaign event on Sunday in Las Vegas. “We’ve got a better plan -–- where we invest in wind and solar; and farmers and scientists who are harnessing new biofuels to power our cars; and where construction workers are building homes and factories that waste less energy; and we’re investing to get at a 100-year supply of natural gas.”

“We can create hundreds of thousands of jobs here in Nevada and all across the country, and cut our oil imports in half by 2020,” he said. “That’s my plan.”

According to the Energy Information Administration, solar energy was only 1 percent of all renewable energy electricity consumed nationwide in 2010, but solar energy use increased by 60 percent between 2006 and 2010.

Solar has also continued to grow over the past two years, adding more than 1300 megawatts of utility-scale capacity between the beginning of 2010 and June 2012, tripling the 619 megawatts of capacity in place at the end of 2009, according to the EIA.

However, solar energy is heavily subsidized — at nearly $970 million in 2011, according to the Wall Street Journal. It’s also one of the most expensive.

Using data compiled by the Institute for Energy Research, the Journal reported that solar energy subsidies cost $775.64 per megawatt hour. In contrast, sources like oil and gas cost only 64 cents per megawatt hour.

“So for every tax dollar that goes to coal, oil and natural gas, wind gets $88 and solar $1,212,” reports the Journal.

The Journal also reports that, “Renewables accounted for 11% of energy production but received 77% of the tax subsidies—and that understates the figure because it leaves out direct spending.”

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney also champions energy independence by 2020, but has criticized Obama for his subsidies to bankrupt solar companies, in particular Solyndra.

“Unfortunately, President Obama’s poor understanding of the private sector has spilled directly into his energy policy, as he sought to have government play venture capitalist and spend billions of dollars subsidizing his chosen companies and technologies,” according to Romney’s energy policy white paper.

“Meanwhile, as companies like Solyndra were going bankrupt and the wind industry was shedding 10,000 jobs, revolutionary innovation in the private sector was paving the way for energy independence and an economic resurgence,” the paper continues.

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