"A Gold Rush of Subsidies in Clean Energy Search"

The bankruptcy of the solar firm Solyndra has focused a lot of attention -- some of it politicized -- on clean-energy subsidies. While those subsidies have sparked something of a "gold rush" among clean-energy entrepreneurs, some clean-energy startups face serious economic challenges that may justify them.

"Halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, on a former cattle ranch and gypsum mine, NRG Energy is building an engineering marvel: a compound of nearly a million solar panels that will produce enough electricity to power about 100,000 homes.

The project is also a marvel in another, less obvious way: Taxpayers and ratepayers are providing subsidies worth almost as much as the entire $1.6 billion cost of the project. Similar subsidy packages have been given to 15 other solar- and wind-power electric plants since 2009.

The government support — which includes loan guarantees, cash grants and contracts that require electric customers to pay higher rates — largely eliminated the risk to the private investors and almost guaranteed them large profits for years to come. The beneficiaries include financial firms like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, conglomerates like General Electric, utilities like Exelon and NRG — even Google.

A great deal of attention has been focused on Solyndra, a start-up that received $528 million in federal loans to develop cutting-edge solar technology before it went bankrupt, but nearly 90 percent of the $16 billion in clean-energy loans guaranteed by the federal government since 2009 went to subsidize these lower-risk power plants, which in many cases were backed by big companies with vast resources.

When the Obama administration and Congress expanded the clean-energy incentives in 2009, a gold-rush mentality took over.

Eric Lipton and Clifford Krauss report for the New York Times November 11, 2011.


"European Renewables Caught In Perfect Storm" (Reuters)

"Congress Divided Over Continuing Subsidization of Wind Power" (McClatchy)

"Germany Faces Sticker Shock as Renewables Replace Nuclear" (ENS)

"Poll: Americans Back Federal Subsidies for Renewables, Not Fossil Fuels" (ENS)

"Asia-Pacific Leaders Make Green Growth a Priority" (ENS)

"Carbon Trading May Be Ready for Its Next Act" (Green/NYT)

"Falling In Love With Solar: Green Mountain Power Sets An Ambitious Plan for the Future" (Burlington Free Press)

"Carbon Tax Hit Small: CSIRO" (Sydney Morning Herald)

"German Renewables in for Dire Q3, Gloomy Outlook" (Reuters)

Source: NY Times, 11/15/2011