White House Attacks GOP Rep Over Solar Funding

The White House has a new target – Rep. Cliff Stearns. Stearns had the gall to criticize how the administration is wasting billions of taxpayer dollars on politically-connected solar companies. Well, we can’t have that, now, can we?

The White House blasted Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), a top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Tuesday for saying that the United States “can’t compete with China to make solar panels and wind turbines.”

“Chairman Stearns and other members of his party in Congress believe that America cannot, or should not, try to compete for jobs in a cutting edge and rapidly growing industry,” White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer wrote in a blog post.

“We simply disagree: the answer to this challenge is not to wave the white flag and give up on American workers. America has never declared defeat after a single setback – and we shouldn’t start now.”

After reading the whole thing, come back and I’ll explain why they are both wrong.

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Stearns is right in the sense that it’s impossible to compete with China on their terms. We don’t have slave labor here in the US. He’s also right that we can’t dump taxpayer dollars into failing companies. But, there is some evidence that privately-funded solar companies are doing quite well in this economy.

The solar industry has grown from a mere 20 companies in the 1980s to more than 5,000 today.

“There’s been an explosion in growth in solar,” Shugar said. “Last year the solar market doubled in the U.S. It’s doubling again this year.”

And Harris notes the industry now employees 100,000 people, and that it is actually a net exporter, to the tune of $2 billion a year.

As solar companies thrive in a free market, more people are questioning why federal taxpayers should be subsidizing them, as happened in the controversial case of Solyndra, which when bankrupt despite receiving a $530 million federal stimulus loan.

Solar power is becoming increasingly competitive because prices are falling. In fact, solar is now cheaper than power from a new nuclear plant or a new coal-fired plant.

That explains why it is attracting large amounts of private investment.

“What we need to do is really focus on our strengths – which is letting the venture capital community do its work, and letting the government do its work and letting consumers become really sophisticated shoppers in this sphere,” Lisa Margonelli of the New America Foundation said.

They may never be able to over-take China in the solar market. But if they can compete with the help of private investment, hey, why not?

I do disagree with the conclusion of the last article, in that the federal government should subsidize consumer purchases.  If these companies are thriving and competing, more power to them! If the price comes down enough I’ll even buy some solar panels. But let’s keep the federal government out of it. We don’t need price distortions. If this industry is going to survive it must find a way to survive on its own merits.

Contrary to popular belief, conservatives aren’t against finding alternative energy. We just want the free market to do it.