The New York Times posted yet another error-riddled article last Friday on clean energy. This one, titled "A Gold Rush of Subsidies in Clean Energy Search," purports to describe the "banquet" of "lucrative" subsidies that result in "windfalls" to renewable energy project investors.
Rather than catalog all the errors made by the Times, I will just point readers on to some very thorough rebuttals already online from NRG and others. What's amazing is that almost nothing in the article stands up to scrutiny. It reveals an astounding failure of the paper's editors and gives the impression the story was rushed to press to make a splash.
But the biggest thing the article got wrong is the presumption that there is something wrong or shameful going on when an energy company realizes a profit investing in a solar project. Forgive me, but isn't the whole point of current solar incentives to get the industry over the final hurdles to scale and credibility so that it can play a role in mainstream energy markets?
The whole point of subsidies for promising new technologies is to make them economically competitive with entrenched incumbents--like coal, natural gas, and nuclear. Those incumbants receive billions in subsidies today despite the fact they enrich some of the world's most profitable companies. On this unequal playing field, transitioning to clean, solar energy surely deserves government support.
Why does solar make sense to subsidize? Because it's a rapidly maturing technology and we have a virtually endless supply of both silicon and sunlight. Today, solar costs 70% less than it did just 2-3 years ago and those costs will only continue to decline as the industry grows and innovates. As a society, we frequently make choices about how we want our country and its infrastructure to look in the future. In the case of solar, it's a clear and easy choice to make.
The very facts the authors cite as evidence of solar policy failure are actually the evidence of a compelling policy success. The combination of state renewable mandates and federal subsidies finally add up to a formula that provides companies like NRG with enough profit incentive to invest in a big way. In other words, we finally seem to be getting the policy formula right! Was someone over at the New YorkTimes under the impression that NRG, Duke, FPL, and others were investing in solar without expecting a return?
The New York Times' editors underestimate the intelligence of the American people who have repeatedly affirmed their support for renewable incentives (Pew Study & UT Austin Study)because they are important and necessary. They further insult Californians by insinuating the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) is a handout when Californians have repeatedly demonstrated they understand and support greenhouse gas goals. They even ignore America's small business owners--the ones supposedly hurt by 'over regulation'--who overwhelmingly support programs to reduce carbon emissions because it creates new market opportunities.
Here's what I'm excited about. Solar power, once viewed with extreme skepticism by utilities, is now embraced my mainstream companies like NRG to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. We would do well to hope other government initiatives could meet with such success!