Don’t believe the hype: Five things you should know about clean energy investments
A version of this post originally appeared on Climate Progress.
In an attempt to keep the political war against renewable energy in the headlines, Republicans held another hearing to question the value of government investments in the sector.
Looks like 10 political sideshows on Solyndra weren’t enough.
If the hearing were being used as a chance to objectively assess where the industry stands, that would be one thing. But the title of the meeting gave away the real political intent: “The Obama Administration’s Green Energy Gamble: What Have All The Taxpayer Subsidies Achieved?”
Actually, those green energy investments have yielded substantial returns. While the political grandstanding goes on in the House of Representatives, here are five important things you should know about how promotion of clean energy has supported American businesses and consumers:
1. The 1603 grant program supported up to 75,000 jobs and 23,000 renewable energy projects during the height of the recession. When the recession hit, it was very difficult for project developers to find banks that were willing to utilize tax credits. So a cash grant program was created to give companies an easier way to finance projects. While it’s very difficult to know the exact influence of the grant on each project, the program played a major role in maintaining momentum — helping support $25 billion in gross economic activity, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
2. The production tax credit helps leverage up to $20 billion in private investment annually. With this key tax credit in place, the wind industry has dropped costs by 90 percent over the last few decades. It’s helped states like Iowa reach 20 percent wind penetration — bringing that state over 215 businesses that support 5,000 workers. Across the rest of the U.S., the entire industry supports 75,000 jobs, with 30,000 in manufacturing. However, up to 37,000 of those jobs could be at risk due to congressional lawmakers’ inability to extend the tax credit.
3. The loan guarantee program is expected to cost $2 billion less than budgeted. This program has gotten a black eye due to the bankruptcies of a few companies — most famously Solyndra — that received guarantees. But according to John McCain’s national finance chair, Herb Allison, the cost to taxpayers will likely be far less than initially thought. In fact, over the last 20 years of experience, the U.S. government has shown a knack for managing risk — with loans and loan guarantee programs only costing tax payers $0.94 for every $100 invested.
4. Home weatherization grew 1,000 percent from April to June of 2011, creating 14,800 jobs. After a slow ramp-up, efficiency programs supported by the stimulus package have helped weatherize hundreds of thousands of homes. In addition to supporting the retrofits of individual homes, the Obama administration has supported the Better Buildings Initiative, a program that has leveraged billions of private dollars to upgrade more than 4 billion square feet of public and private buildings in the next two years. That’s enough demand to support over 100,000 jobs.
5. The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) has supported dozens of potentially groundbreaking technologies in advanced materials, renewable fuels, electricity generation, waste heat, and battery storage. Helping enhance America’s lead in technological innovation, ARPA-E — initially funded through the stimulus package — has helped inventors, companies, and university labs boost their work. This program has immense bipartisan support for promoting the “innovative research that makes America great and has fueled our economic growth for generations.”
Despite these successes, Republicans continue milking the Solyndra bankruptcy for an election-year story that doesn’t hold up — dragging the rest of the clean energy industry into the mud.
The sector has gone through some high-profile shake-ups and bankruptcies, so it’s the duty of lawmakers to understand how taxpayer dollars are being deployed. That’s a supportable endeavor. But holding yet another hearing to lambast the president for a so-called “gamble” in clean energy isn’t productive for anyone.
Get Grist in your inbox