We find little that’s gratifying about being right about the Solyndra controversy, in which a fossil fuel-funded slice of the political class swinging wildly solar energy. These pundits and politicians are going after solar’s viability and trying to hurt it as an industry, despite its proven job creating potential. It’s almost as if they hate American job growth if it’s in an energy industry that isn’t drilling or mining. There’s little gratification in finding that this sort of disciplined venom is very similar to what we were predicting a year ago in the salon we hosted at the Solar Power International (SPI) 2010 conference and trade in Los Angeles.
The themes were easy to predict then, and they are playing out now: Solar (and other types of clean energy) are a “bubble;” the industry isn’t “real” or “ready;” it lacks legitimacy because it's government-supported.
Take, for example, Rush Limbaugh: He recently called green energy "a gigantic fraud," and said, "There is not an active business in solar panels. It just isn't there." Or, our favorite Limbaugh quote on pro-solar policies:
Because every one of these cockamamie ideas is one of theirs. They're all bombing out. They're all leading and contributing to deficits and debt, and it's all political. There's not one business reason to do any of this! There is no solar energy business out there.
We now have Fox News Channel clearly moving from over-hyping the Solyndra story to talking down the market viability of major players such as First Solar and SunPower. There’s the Wall Street Journal editorial page's Stephen Moore and his 30+ piece editorial tirades against clean energy, who can’t seem to stand the thought that solar is a real disruptive threat to dirty energy. Incredibly, you have elected officials, such as Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) saying point blank that we should give up on a domestic solar industry --- never mind that America invented solar energy.
The only way I can make sense of this aggressive attack on an industry with 90% approval rating, job-creating potential, and explosive growth is that competing energy sources that fund these politicians and pundits are scared of solar's disruptive potential.
Contrast all this negative bombast with recent developments. The announcements of a new solar panel factory by General Electric and new solar installations by snack food giant Frito-Lay would suggest that the Limbaugh-Moore-Stearns crowd is dead wrong.
So too would the experience of SSIES, a new project development player working out of the Washington, DC area. From what we’ve learned, this bootstraps company that took a big gamble by investing time and effort building business relationships in a West African nation that everyone else was ignoring.
The gamble paid off, as SSIES bagged one of the biggest solar PPAs in the history of the planet's southern hemisphere. Executives at the company are in Dallas today, with a line of credit from a major financial institution and a schedule of final contract talks at SPI. There, the company is spending today and the next two days with at least three major players that are vying to join the core vendor team that will build SSIES’s 500MW project large-scale PV project.
From what we’ve been told, the project has the ability to slingshot the construction of another 500 MW of combined solar and wind after the first 500 MW is complete.
Would more traditional forms of energy have the dynamism that would have allowed a new entrant like SSIES to pull this off? Unlikely. However they fare in Dallas, their experience stands in a stark contrast to the deliberate talk-down of solar by some political types in this country.
While company officials wouldn’t talk to me on the record, we were told that the SSIES people don’t understand the Solyndra talk-down of the solar industry, given the need to move the U.S. economy forward. Meanwhile, they are headed offshore to build big, needed energy projects that will be clean and employ people. The country they are working in, though not an economic superpower, has a government that wants solar’s job creating potential. Maybe between gulps of hot air, that’s something even Rush Limbaugh can understand.