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Michael Grunwald: Solyndra's Demise Was "a shame...not a scandal"

2 min. read

At Time's "Swampland" blog, Michael Grunwald has a superb article entitled, "Why on Earth Would the Obama Campaign Call Solyndra ‘Successful and Innovative’? Because It Was," in which he shreds, dismantles, deconstructs, and otherwise demolishes the "cauldron of stupidity" (his words) that sums up not just "the entire Solyndra pseudo-scandal," but also the brain-dead attacks by Darrell Issa, Mitt Romney, and other dirty energy industry tools. In fact, as Grunwald explains, Solyndra not only was NOT a scandal, it actually was:

...once the toast of Silicon Valley, a hot start-up whose product was not only innovative but revolutionary. It was one of the most successful fund-raisers in the history of clean-tech finance, attracting an astonishing $1 billion from elite investors like British mogul Richard Branson, whose Virgin Green Fund selected Solyndra from a pool of 117 solar companies. When the Bush Administration wanted to complete its first clean-energy loan guarantee before leaving office, it chose Solyndra from 143 applicants. The Energy Department’s civil servants objected to the rush job in January 2009, but suggested the loan had merit; when Obama took over, Solyndra’s application was already at the top of the pile.

So, if Solyndra was so great - "innovative," "revolutionary," etc. - then why did it fail, you ask? Simple, Grunwald explains: "Silicon prices plummeted, so Solyndra’s business plan imploded, and the company defaulted on its $585 million loan." This all was unexpected, of course, but that's not at all unusual in capitalism, as the Darrell Issas and Mitt Romneys of the world certainly know. I believe they call it "creative destruction" and normally tout it as a great thing.

In this case, enemies of clean energy claim that Solyndra's some sort of a scandal, even though: a) there is absolutely no evidence of any scandal (or, Grundwald writes, not "the slightest bit of evidence that political influence had anything to do with Solyndra getting its money"); b)  Solyndra was supported by pretty much everybody - Democrats, Republicans, investors of all stripes to the tune of billions of dollars; and c) as Grundwald explains, cheap solar is a good thing, even if it basically killed off Solyndra's business model, at least for now. Grundwald concludes:

Skepticism is understandable, in the absence of an alternative explanation. But there is an alternative explanation: Solyndra was a potentially transformative company, “widely praised as successful and innovative.” It was a calculated risk that went sour. That’s a shame, but it’s not a scandal.

Actually, if anything is a scandal, it's the people turning the demise of a highly-touted company into something nefarious, when in fact it was absolutely nothing of the sort.