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Another Voice: Solyndra failed because subsidy was too little, too late

By Larry Beahan

Solyndra, the failed solar panel manufacturer, is a name that fossil fuel and nuclear energy enthusiasts have kept in the headlines. The Obama administration lost $500 million by guaranteeing Solyndra’s loans as part of the $700 billion, 2009 stimulus package.

Solyndra and Solyndra-like projects must stay in the spotlight because supporting clean, renewable energy is exactly the direction we must follow if we are to survive the triple threat of climate change, dependence on foreign fuel and the pollution of air, land and water.

In Silicon Valley, multimillion-dollar companies fail every day. Without federal guarantees, funding for solar and wind projects comes at rates equivalent to Mafia vigorish.

The United States began energy subsidy with a 10 percent tariff on British coal in 1789. The nuclear industry has been the recipient of hundreds of billions of federal dollars and still does not charge rates that pay its costs. Federal subsidies to fossil fuels are estimated to be currently $52 billion a year.

“What Would Jefferson Do,” a review of the history of federal subsidies produced by DBL Investors, a venture capital firm, concluded: “ … the federal commitment to O&G was five times greater than the federal commitment to renewables during the first 15 years of each subsidies’ life, and it was more than 10 times greater for nuclear.”

Vastly more money has been spent on fossil fuels and nuclear power than on clean energy. And these charges do not include the cost of the damage they do to our climate and our health:

• The National Academy of Sciences estimates that health costs from fossil fuels total $120 billion annually. This includes the care for Buffalo’s West Siders with diesel fume-induced asthma.

• Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is asking the federal government for $30 billion toward New York City’s recovery from Hurricane Sandy. Sandy fits the pattern of climate disruption that scientists blame on global warming.

• The U.S. Department of Energy estimates the cost of cleaning up the West Valley Nuclear Waste site at between $10 billion and $13 billion. If the site is not cleaned up before a hurricane the size of Sandy dissolves its glacial-gravel plateau into Cattaraugus Creek, cleanup is estimated at $200 billion.

Solyndra failed because China beat us to the punch by subsidizing its solar panel industry with $30 billion. Our $500 million loan guarantee to Solyndra was too little, too late. Tell your senators and congressman to stop wasting money on coal, oil, gas and nuclear energy. Insist they support clean energy programs like “Clean-FIT” proposed by Sierra Club and the United Steel Workers at:

Have some of those underpriced Chinese panels installed on your house.

Larry Beahan is conservation chairman of the Sierra Club Niagara Group.