Word to Obama: Solar Still Sucks

John Ransom
Posted: Apr 05, 2012 12:01 AM

If you thought solar sucked last week, it sucks even more now that Solar Trust of America has filed for bankruptcy. The name is kind of fitting in the ironic and Orwellian fashion we’ve come to expect from the Obama administration. The name symbolizes the bankruptcy of Obama’s energy policy: solar… trust… America.  Oxymoron, with the emphasis on moron. If it weren’t this close {ß}to being a tragedy, we could all laugh.

“Solar Trust of America LLC, which holds the development rights for the world's largest solar power project,” reports Reuters, “on Monday filed for bankruptcy protection after its majority owner began insolvency proceedings in Germany.”

Obama critics contend that solar is just another part of his failed energy policy. But they would be overlooking the benefits to America’s energy security that Obama believes photo-ops bring us.   

Because the bankruptcy is just another one of the Obama administration’s cash-for-photo-op investments that has crashed and burned. Most politicians charge big contributors money for photo-op with the president.

Below: California Governor Jerry Brown & Obama's Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, break ground on the a project from Solar Trust of America that's now in jeopardy because Solar Trust has filed bankruptcy. And yes, those are golden shovels they are using.   

In another quest to fundamentally change America, Obama awards government loan guarantees along with photo-ops to big donors.  

So fortunately for America’s national security- and energy security we will now at least always have the memories- backed up by various action photos suitable for framing.

Although the Department of Energy was eager to approve the Solar Trust for $2 billion worth of government loan guarantees, the company rejected the offer in a scramble to find technology that would actually allow their plant to work. Its amazing that at the time the Department of Energy was pushing a loan to the company, the company was realizing the equipment on which the loan was predicated wouldn’t work.  

Once billed as the brain trust behind one of the largest solar projects ever- the Blythe Solar Power Project in California’s Coachella Valley- Solar Trust of America will end its government-sponsored Gong Show appearance with the tinny reverberation of failure that will echo for the whole industry.

“The Oakland-based company has held rights for the 1,000-megawatt Blythe Solar Power Project in the southern California desert,” writes Reuters, “which last April won a conditional commitment for a $2.1 billion loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy. It is unclear how the bankruptcy will affect that project. Solar Trust did not receive the loan guarantee.”

While Obama administration was denied the opportunity to throw money at Solar Trust- only by the grace of the company’s own good judgment- make no mistake, Obama’s policy of throwing money at other of these uneconomic, sunshine and blue sky investments, is responsible for the bankruptcy as much as any other factor; actually, probably more so.

So far, the administration has made $34 billion in loan guarantees to various green energy projects, many of them in a solar industry already rocked by over-supply and poor economics.

What solar needs now is fewer start-ups, less investment, not more. And everyone outside of the government central-failures understands this. The more money that’s been thrown at solar, the smaller the industry has become.

Guggenheim Solar (Stock Symbol: TAN), an exchange-traded fund that roughly follows the MAC Global Solar Energy Index, representative of broader trends in solar, has lost close to 62 percent of its value year-to-date. Over a three year period, the fund has lost roughly 16 percent while the S&P 500 has returned around 25 percent. All this, at a time when government support and subsidies for the solar industry was at record levels. In 2008 TAN approached $300 per share. It now trades at $23.07.

TAN Chart

TAN data by YCharts

Wall Street seems to know what the government can’t figure out for itself: Solar still sucks, investment-wise. That’s not going to change until the fundamental problem of creating electricity from the sun’s radiation at economical prices is solved. If there is a government role in that solution, it would be in putting money- a lot less money- into basic research that solves the economic problem, not funding private investment.

Because, once solar can compete with nuclear and natural gas and coal, then hurray for solar!

Until then, however, the government, try as it might, won’t be able to bridge the gap between free market -or black market- solutions and central planning schemes no matter the level of subsidy support, the number of loan guarantees or the imposition of fees on competing energy sources in order to make solar more attractive to consumers.

It’s ironic that at a time the Obama administration is twisting the Constitution in order to nationalize healthcare in the name of controlling runaway healthcare prices that they are simultaneously pursing policies in another huge part of our economy, which, of their own admission, have made energy prices “necessarily skyrocket.”

As has been proven by Obama’s most recent photo-op-as-energy policy strategy regarding the Keystone Pipeline, these policies don’t add up to only economic failure for the administration, but to the only failure that Obama really seems to care about: political failure.

But it’s nice to see that finally, in something, Obama, in my most insincere imitation of Bill Clinton, “feels our pain.”

Let’s make him feel it in November when it’s colder outside and we get more record cold via, um, global warming.       

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