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The Renewable Energy Arms Race

We’re talking about China’s big move on the world’s green future. Investing big and playing hardball as the U.S. struggles to compete.

Solar trackers in South Burlington, Vt. use the Vermont-made AllSun Tracker pole-mounted solar energy systems that use GPS and wireless technology to orient with the sun throughout the day to produce more energy than fixed solar units. (AP)

Solar trackers in South Burlington, Vt. use the Vermont-made AllSun Tracker pole-mounted solar energy systems that use GPS and wireless technology to orient with the sun throughout the day to produce more energy than fixed solar units. (AP)

American politics are roiled right now over U.S. loans to the failed U.S. solar energy company Solyndra. But across the Pacific in China, the Chinese government is underwriting renewable energy work on a scale that dwarfs American efforts.

China is the world’s biggest polluter. But it is also moving at high speed to become the world’s green energy powerhouse. Wind and solar and much more. It’s investing big. It’s playing hardball –- some say unfairly. And it’s making a big claim on the future –- and future jobs.

This hour On Point: China’s big move on the world’s green energy future.

-Tom Ashbrook


Steve Hargreaves, senior writer for CNNMoney.com where he covers energy industry

Keith Bradsher, Hong Kong Bureau Chief for the New York Times, where he covers Asian business, economic, political and science news

Josh Freed, Vice President of the Clean Energy Program at Third Way


Three years ago, the U.S. was the world’s leader in renewable energy, but China has invested heavily and taken the lead. It has meant that the cost of making renewable energy technology, wind turbines and solar panels, for instance, has fallen dramatically.

“China has gone from being almost a non-player in renewable energy to being the world’s dominant player in renewable energy,” Keith Bradsher, Hong Kong Bureau Chief for the New York Times told On Point. He said the Chinese government is motivated by nervousness about its own energy security, having moved from a net energy exporter to an energy importer.

The crash program in renewables is made possible by major government investment, which heavily subsidies the renewables program. Making solar panels isn’t all that expensive, Bradsher said, the key is getting enough money to keep businesses afloat while the initial investment is recouped.

That investment has reduced the cost of power from renewable power sources, wind power, for instance, is now only about 50 percent more than coal, according to Bradsher.

Steve Hargreaves, senior writer for CNNMoney.com, said that the impact of the Chinese renewables push has been very difficult for U.S. companies. The plummeting cost of solar panels –their cost has fallen 40 percent this year alone– has pushed many U.S. companies into bankruptcy. Hargreaves said that U.S. companies are also struggling against a patchwork of regulations that vary widely between the states.

“I don’t know if we’re ever going to compete with China in terms of the manufacturing process,” Hargreaves said. He said that the U.S. may end up working hard to find out how to pay for Chinese renewable products.

“It is understandable that there is real concern and frustration here,” said Josh Freed, Vice President of the Clean Energy Program at Third Way. The Chinese are stealing intellectual property and violating trade rules, but they are also putting in place smart policies that are helping them dominate the renewables market. “It means that jobs that could have been made here are going to China,” he said.

From Tom’s Reading List

CNN Money: Matthew Kahn, an economics professor at UCLA, speaking Wednesday at Fortune’s Brainstorm Green conference said “This is not a zero sum game. This makes the United States better off.” The United States wins because Chinese investment provides a market for U.S. companies in the alternative energy space. Plus, Chinese investment helps advance clean energy, bringing it closer to cost competitiveness with fossil fuels.

New York Times: “These efforts to dominate renewable energy technologies raise the prospect that the West may someday trade its dependence on oil from the Mideast for a reliance on solar panels, wind turbines and other gear manufactured in China.”

Salon.com: “The broader context around the Solyndra decision is that the nation was on the brink of a depression and the Obama administration was attempting to move as quickly as possible to pump money into the economy that would not only stimulate economic growth, but also serve the larger agendas of creating green jobs and combat the challenge of climate change. [...] But there’s an even larger context. China will shortly roll out its 12th five-year-plan for renewable energy deployment. The details of China’s plan, [..] are nothing short of staggering.”

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  • Roy Mac

    The question isn’t, “will it…?”  but, “How far has it…?”

    • salzburg

      Agree…   China is investing in Africa and sending their own people in to build and run the energy set-ups. They are focused on the future. 

  • Stierman1

    So far the 21st is the century of the Chinese second coming. This is because as they emerge they are not in a stranglehold of fossil fuel interests who wish to perpetuate the “Oil Age’ for short term gains. As man’s evolution continues it is on a  global not American scale.

  • Anonymous

    United they stand, divided we fall.
    Placing the nation at peril, the Tea party’s members are too short sighted to see we need to manage the future. Their nonsensical faith in billionaires and multinational corporations belies the facts we are confronted with.
    Oil corporations are lead by chief executives whose interests are equally shortsighted as they manage the most profitable corporations in the history of mankind; like too many other executives, I fear that they manage primarily on short term profit. Given their current success, their interests are not in a green Manhattan project which would undermine their current inestment. Why should they care? They have their golden parachutes. They are not invested in the success of America, they are invested in their own personal success.
    As a country we need to invest in people whose self interests are aligned with the success of the US as a whole, not with a multinational ‘person’ or a radical political group seeking power at all costs.

    • Margbi

      As Thomas Frank wrote “What’s the matter with Kansas?” Tea Party members consistently vote against their own interests. To what end? Who knows? 
      Right on MadMark.

    • Jasoturner

      A green Manhattan Project.  That is a seductive phrase, but may be misleading.  The Manhattan Project exploited newly discovered properties of matter, so breakout discoveries were, in retrospect, sort of predictable.  Energy conversion, on the other hand, is pretty well tilled soil.  So it seems more likely that, in the energy sector, performance improvements will be incremental rather than large and abrupt. 

      I certainly would not rule out a game changing discovery, but am not sanguine.

      As for your comment regarding those making a killing in the energy sector?  Totally agree.  To their way of thinking, I guess all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others…

  • AC

    there is still plenty of innovative research going on here, a lot funded by the Chinese, so I agree, they are positioning themselves for the future in energy. They also do not have the same infrstructure replacement costs we will be facing to make green energy viable, that being said it can and eventually will be done, whether or not ‘oil age’ proponents want it too.
    My biggest beed is that China does not have any form of ‘intellectual property’ laws. I don’t like this policy at all. It perpetuates the power of the ‘state’ and does not reward an individual for their contributions (even their artists don’t own their art).
    I don’t think China is as united as they portray either. I was very moved by the 2 old ladies they put in a re-programming work camp when they complained about being kicked out of their homes cuz the state wanted the land for their big olympics spectacle. I suspect they are very surficial with their spectacles and the avg Chinese citizen is silently grumbling…..

  • David Eisenbud

     SEIA is working hard to combat persistent myths every day and wanted to make sure that you are armed with the facts to counter them, too. Please use them when you are confronted with misperceptions about our industry. MYTH #1: There are no jobs created by the solar industry
    FACT:Today, the solar industry employs more than 100,000 Americans, double the amount of solar workers in 2009. They work at more than 5,000 companies, the vast majority being small businesses, in all 50 states. The industry grew by 69 percent in the past year, making it one of the fastest growing sectors in the U.S. economy.MYTH #2: Solar only works in states like California.
    FACT:Solar energy works in all 50 states. Germany has more installed solar capacity than any other country and it receives roughly the same amount of sunshine as Alaska. Less than one-third of the photovoltaic (PV) capacity installed in the U.S. in the second quarter of 2011 was installed in California. In fact, more PV was installed on commercial buildings in New Jersey than in California during that quarter.MYTH #3: The market for solar energy is very small.
    FACT:The U.S. solar energy market is big and growing fast. In 2010 alone, $6 billion worth of finished solar energy systems were installed in the U.S. The U.S. solar energy market grew 69 percent in the second quarter of 2011, helping aid our economic recovery. In fact, many analysts project that the U.S. will become the largest solar market in the world in the next few years.MYTH #4: Solar energy is too expensive for widespread usage.
    FACT:Solar energy is already cost effective in many locations across America. The price of solar modules has dropped 30 percent since the beginning of 2010 as the industry scales up and companies innovate with new products and manufacturing techniques. Also, new financing options allow homeowners and businesses to start saving money on their utility bills as soon as they turn on their solar systems.MYTH #5: If solar power really worked, it wouldn’t need government support.
    FACT:The U.S. decided long ago to support energy sources since energy drives our economy. Every major energy source and technology has benefited from federal government R&D support and incentives of various types. This is true of the oil, natural gas, hydroelectric, nuclear and biofuels industries—all of which continue to receive government support today.MYTH #6: Solar products are all made in China.
    FACT:The U.S. was a significant net exporter of solar products in 2010, including to China. Total U.S. exports of solar energy products was $5.6 billion, with net exports totaling $2 billion. Of the $6 billion in direct value created by U.S. solar installations in 2010, more than $4.4 billion, or 75 percent of the value, accrued to the United States.MYTH #7: Solar devices require more energy to manufacture than they produce in their lifetime.
    FACT:Studies have conclusively demonstrated that energy payback for photovoltaic (PV) energy is now less than three years. Given that PV module warranties are generally in excess of 20 years, a PV system will produce far more energy over its lifetime than was consumed to manufacture it. Technological progress is reducing the energy consumption of PV manufacturing further. Energy output and input ratios for concentrating solar power (CSP) and solar water heating equipment are also favorable.MYTH #8: Solar energy needs a technological revolution to go mainstream.
    FACT:Solar technologies available today already provide enough electricity to power 630,000 American homes. Solar panel prices have fallen 30 percent in the past year and a half. No scientific breakthroughs are required for solar energy to power America. Solar is ready and available today; it only needs smart and consistent policy to thrive.

    • AC

      this is very interesting. I work with a lot of power companies and infrastructure projects and I haven’t seen these sorts of numbers yet, tho I’m expecting it.
      Do the facts include this snafu w/Solyndra? I heard it was a mix of outright fraud exacerbated by competitive prices from foreign manufacturers. I really don’t know too much about it, just the more scandalous headlines and reactionary loud mouthing….

    • Worried for the country(MA)

      Sorry but this is pure propaganda.  I checked for an install last year and even with massive government subsidies the ‘theoretical’ payback was about 20 years and that equaled the expected lifespan of the panels.

      Solar hot water heating might make sense if you currently heat with oil.  The payback will be less than 10 years if you can invest in the project.

      • Jasoturner

        Good point.  If this stuff was truly cost effective, there would be shared savings companies that would do the installs for free, would take a large share of the demonstrated savings for four or five years, after which the system would be paid off, they’d make a tidy profit, and the homeowner would own the panels.

    • Jasoturner

      And yet China is commissioning a couple of power plants per week (according to BBC news).  Which sort of suggests that while China is happy to sell solar panels, they recognize that they need central station power plants to meet the needs of a growing industrial power.  India too is relying on central station plants for the vast majority of its new electrical supply.  This is obviously economically driven as they race to first-world status.

      I like solar, I think it’s great in niche applications, but it is intermittent and very space intensive and is not ready to scale up to meet industrial and institutional needs.  When it comes to cost-effectively reducing emissions, I’d go with energy conservation of displacement of fossil fuel with solar any day of the week.

  • Yar

    It is interesting that there is so much focus on photovoltaics and so little on thermal energy capture.  Is it because fossil energy is priced so cheaply?  Most energy in the home goes to heating and cooling, why not use solar thermal energy to assist in both.  Solar water heaters are a proven technology, and far as a price return on investment, they have a much shorter timeline for profitability.  How many jobs would be created putting solar water heaters on every rooftop?
    I believe solar powered air-conditioning can be achieved as well, using solar thermal energy to boil the refrigerant.  
    If fossil fuels included a true cost ‘carbon tax’ in their purchase price then these ideas and many others would suddenly make sense.
    We are distorting the market by not paying the total cost of the energy we use.

    • Jasoturner

      Good point.  Curiously, I saw solar hot water all over the place in rural China last time I was there (not to mention the busier areas.)  This truly is a cost effective way to exploit the sun’s energy, ’cause they base everything on the bottom line.

      Actually, excellent point.  Why not train thousands of people to do these installs and deploy them with stimulus dollars subsidizing the installs?  We employ people, we reduce our consumption of fuel oil/natural gas and we cut operating costs for average Americans.  That would totally rock.

  • Jasoturner

    Arms race?  Renewable energy is not close to being cost competitive and ready for mission critical deployment.  Furthermore, unlike fossil fuels, China cannot corner the market, because the U.S. can always ramp up production of renewables if/when they *do* become truly cost effective.  It’s not like oil, where we are forced to import from nations that are resentful/hostile to us.

    For those who will be quick to talk about how prices are coming down, etc., here’s an object lesson.  Logan International Airport spent a ton of money installing solar panels on one of their garages.  They are happy to report the tons of avoided carbon dioxide emissions (though I doubt they factored in the carbon release associated with the manufacture of the panels themselves) but are less expansive on the financials.  Based on a white paper I retrieved and newspaper reporting, I can see why.  The simple payback on investment was about 45 years – clearly beyond the useful life of the system.

    I think we will know that renewables really make sense when for-profit corporations begin deploying them based upon the financials, and not as boutique PR exercises.  They are, after all, wholly rational capitalists, and these investments are not being made.

    • Worried for the country(MA)

      Agreed.  The corrupt Cape Wind National Grid contract is also proof that off shore wind farms aren’t cost competitive.  The rates passed on to National Grid customers are at least 3X market rates and that is after massive government subsidies.

      • Jasoturner

        I forgot about Cape Wind!  Good point, though I am not so sure the deal is corrupt as much as it is misguided.

      • AC

        i was told China and Google are the main backers for Cape Wind. The army corp released a study indicating that the cost of transmission lines makes the project very expensive….that is where the hold up lies

        • Worried for the country(MA)

          I went to an alternate energy seminar at Tufts a few years ago and Jim Gordon, founder of Cape Wind, was one of the featured speakers.  He stated the nature of wind power  would  force him to sell all the power he generates at market rates.  Well, that was until he cut a deal with the politicians to GIVE him a contract to sell the power at 3X market rates.  If he wants to take the risk with his money, fine.  Just don’t saddle ratepayers with this boondoggle.

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

            Wind power works now.  Do you prefer to breathe polluted air?

          • Worried for the country(MA)

            I used to be a big ‘fan’ of wind until I looked at the economics. It really doesn’t make sense except as a fringe source of power.

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

            Are you including health costs and environmental damages into your economic calculations?

          • Worried for the country(MA)

            Yes.  I agree there are problems with coal emissions (not CO2) but other emissions.  Nuclear is the only scalable solution today but the environmental nuts have set back nuclear research decades and have given us 100s of unnecessary coal plants.

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

            The evidence about carbon dioxide is clear, and the dangers of nuclear waste are as well.  Even if those were completely safe, they are finite resources.  It’s shortsighted to use up what we can’t replace when there’s another answer.

            Isn’t it conservative to use renewable resources, rather than exhausting non-renewables and depending on enemies for our power?

          • Worried for the country(MA)

            I’m all for renewables when they make economic sense.  I’m optimistic that solar will have long term breakthroughs.  Steven Chu has the correct approach.  He is trying to develop breakthrough technologies that are cheaper than coal.  Solyndra was not one of those investments.  Solyndra had no chance of a breakthrough.

            There are promising solutions to the nuclear waste.  Check out LFTR – liquid fluoride thorium reactor.  The technology was developed in the 60s at ORNL in Tenn. but the Chinese have started a crash program to commercialize it.

          • nj

            This is funny. The Worried One is concerned about cost, yet shills for nukes and blames the anti-nuke crazies for nukes’ problems.


            A new study puts the generation costs for power from new nuclear plants at 25 to 30 cents per kilowatt-hour—triple current U.S. electricity rates!This staggering price is far higher than the cost of a variety of carbon-free renewable power sources available today—and 10 times the cost of energy efficiency (see “Is 450 ppm possible? Part 5: Old coal’s out, can’t wait for new nukes, so what do we do NOW?”The new study, “Business Risks and Costs of New Nuclear Power,” is one of the most detailed cost analyses publically available on the current generation of nuclear power plants being considered in this country. It is by a leading expert in power plant costs, Craig A. Severance. A practicing CPA, Severance is co-author of The Economics of Nuclear and Coal Power (Praeger 1976), and former assistant to the chairman and to commerce counsel, Iowa State Commerce Commission.http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4631737.stmThe cost of new nuclear power has been underestimated by a factor of three, according to a British think tank.The New Economics Foundation (NEF) says existing estimates do not allow for the cost of building novel technologies and expensive time delays in construction.http://blogs.wsj.com/environmentalcapital/2008/05/12/its-the-economics-stupid-nuclear-powers-bogeyman/tab/article/It’s the Economics, Stupid: Nuclear Power’s BogeymanIt turns out nuclear power’s biggest worry isn’t Yucca Mountain, Three Mile Island ghosts, or environmental protesters. It’s economics.Rebecca Smith reports today in the WSJ (sub reqd.) on the biggest hurdle to the nascent nuclear-energy revival in the U.S.—skyrocketing construction costs. Though all power sectors are affected to different degrees by rising capital costs, nuclear power’s vulnerability puts it in a class by itself. Notes the paper:A new generation of nuclear power plants is on the drawing boards in the U.S., but the projected cost is causing some sticker shock: $5 billion to $12 billion a plant, double to quadruple earlier rough estimates. Part of the cost escalation is bad luck. Plants are being proposed in a period of skyrocketing costs for commodities such as cement, steel and copper; amid a growing shortage of skilled labor; and against the backdrop of a shrunken supplier network for the industry.

          • Worried for the country(MA)

            you post old outdated articles.  Those numbers are bogus.

            The Japanese nuke disaster is a huge setback and rightfully so.  Nukes need to be safe.

            Cost is an issue for nuclear, no doubt.  Some of this is chicken and egg for the new generation of plants.  Of course, China is going ahead and building the latest nukes (GENIII+) like the AP1000 with passive cooling.

            Litigation and NIMBYism are a large part of costs for nukes.

            LFTR promises much lower costs because of the smaller footprint and no need for pressurized containment.  Also, the waste issue is mostly solved with LFTR.  The problem with LFTR is it needs 10 years of development so we must wait for deployment.

          • nj

            “Old” articles. Yep, 2008 was an eternity ago. Nuke plants are so much cheaper now.

            Are you serious?

            Thorium is the latest hoped-for, “free-lunch” fairy-dust solution that has twisted the knickers of the techno worshippers. Energy for hundreds of years! No waste! Amazing, but true, step right up!

            Decades after “Too cheap to meter,” the nuke shills are still at it.

            Wake me up when there’s a functioning, licensed thorium reactor in operation somewhere, and there’s some basis to analyze the real costs and problems. 

    • mary elizabeth

      Why are other countries moving ahead so fast to develop green technology if it is not cost effective enough for for-profit corporations?  Just asking.

      • Jasoturner

        It’s a bubble mentality.  German is already having an “oh, wait a minute” kind of experience as they contemplate shuttering their nukes.  And this is a government, not a for profit company.

        Proof is in the pudding.  Know any out of the way manufacturing or service industries that employ solar and that don’t market that fact?  I sure don’t.  And I know the energy industry pretty well, at least in the Northeast.

    • Winston Smith

      I wholeheartedly agree with the above comment.  The $535 million loan to Solyndra, which declares bankruptcy and stuck you and me, just confirms that our government doesn’t know how to encourage these kinds of industries.  As one of the Republican debaters said during the Florida debate when government sponsored jobs projects are argued for, “my neighbor’s two dogs have created more shovel-ready projects than the projects being proposed for federal funding in order to create jobs.  Government can’t pick winners from losers, and even if it could, it wastes billions of dollars trying to do it.  Starve the beast!

      • Anonymous

        Winston, the purpose of government loans in a case like Solyndra is precisely the risk factor.  Many of these loans have helped start enterprises that we now value because the government has set aside, so to speak, a risk fund (much as some investors do) which can lose sometimes, but through which the “wins” can be spectacular — only these wins aren’t for some lone investor but for all of us.

        Joe Nocera, business and financial analyst at the New York Times, wrote the other day:

        Undoubtedly, the Solyndra “scandal” will draw a little blood: there are some embarrassing e-mails showing the White House pushing to get the deal done quickly so it could tout Solyndra’s green jobs as part of the stimulus package.

        But if we could just stop playing gotcha for a second, we might realize that federal loan programs — especially loans for innovative energy technologies — virtually require the government to take risks the private sector won’t take. Indeed, risk-taking is what these programs are all about. Sometimes, the risks pay off. Other times, they don’t. It’s not a taxpayer ripoff if you don’t bat 1.000; on the contrary, a zero failure rate likely means that the program is too risk-averse. Thus, the real question the Solyndra case poses is this: Are the potential successes significant enough to negate the inevitable failures?

        I have a hard time answering “no.” Most electricity today is generated by coal-fired power plants, operated by monopoly, state-regulated utilities. Because they’ve been around so long, and because coal is cheap, these plants have built-in cost advantages that no new technology can overcome without help. The federal guarantees help lower the cost of capital for technologies like solar; they help spur innovation; and they help encourage private investment. These are all worthy goals.

        To say “no” is also to cede the solar panel industry to China …


        • Winston Smith

          I understand that there is a risk involved.  But when we are talking about throwing away a HALF A BILLION dollars, someone was obviously WAY OFF THE MARK in evaluating the risk.  And then the bozo executives are taking the 5th amendment when they are brought before Congress.  I would bet that a generous portion of the HALF A BILLION dollars ended up in their pockets.  I also bet that a nice chunk of that HALF A BILLION dollars went to Obama and other Democratic Party reelection campaign coffers also.

          • Anonymous

            Can you compare that half billion with the multi-billions (capitalization betrays SPECIAL INTEREST!) given away to large, well-established corporations for largely political purposes?

            Solyndra’s execs — I’m quoting Nocera who doesn’t appear to have a political dog in this fight — appear to have been optimistic/naive:

            “…And although Harrison and Stover remained optimistic up to the bitter end — insisting six weeks before the late-August bankruptcy filing that the company was going to be fine — they ultimately failed to raise additional capital that would have allowed Solyndra to stay in business.”

            Nocera also writes:

            “If Brian Harrison and W. G. Stover, the two Solyndra executives who took the Fifth Amendment at a Congressional hearing on Friday, ever spend a day in jail, I’ll stand on my head in Times Square.

            “It’s not going to happen, for one simple reason: neither they, nor anyone else connected with Solyndra, have done anything remotely criminal. The company’s recent bankruptcy — which the Republicans are now rabidly ‘investigating’ because Solyndra had the misfortune to receive a $535 million federally guaranteed loan from the Obama administration — was largely brought on by a stunning collapse in the price of solar panels over the past year or so.”

            Winston — I think your use of the Solyndra example is political, couched in economic indignation!  If your main concern were economic and included a detailed condemnation of the thriving Washington laundromat that washes public money and puts it in the pocket of corporations who then return a percentage to helpful politicians (making the average taxpayer a supporter of candidates s/he would vote against) then I’d go along with you wholeheartedly. 

            But not over Solyndra.

          • Anonymous

            A day later… There’s a great Dana Milbank piece in WaPo this morning (posted yesterday) that puts the plague in all houses. 

            That is, it shines a laser light on the origination of that Solyndra loan and (to the extent that blame is due) blames both the Bush and Obama administrations for the debacle.  Obama signed off on something he shouldn’t have.  From Milbank’s article:

            “Bush’s Energy Department apparently adjusted its regulations to make
            sure that Solyndra would be eligible for the guarantees. It hadn’t
            originally contemplated including the photovoltaic-panel manufacturing
            that Solyndra did but changed the regulation before it was finalized.
            The only project that benefited was Solyndra’s.”

            I’d suggest that both administrations saw the advantage of assisting popular environmental businesses and neither scrutinized the possible downside.  So we’re back at “much ado about nothing,” as Joe Nocera believes.


      • TFRX

        Yes, let’s all look to the GOP Florida Fox News debate for common sense on anything.

        I’ll take you seriously about that when Perry, Bachmann, et al, stop attending ribbon-cutting ceremonies made possible with Barack Obama’s stimulus money.

        • Winston Smith

          I didn’t realize that is was Obama’s stimulus money.  Oh that’s right, all of our money really belongs to the government and they generously allow us to keep some of it.  I don’t watch or have access to Fox News or even like the loud boisterous tone on many of the programs, but I do get tired of it always being bashed. They do present a view and have news stories that much of the mainstream media doesn’t present.  And yes, I like to listen to NPR, but it is biased to the left.  I will be that if you did a poll of NPR employees, that the percentage whose personal political viewpoint is conservative (against big government, abortion, gay marriage, for Christian family values, etc.) would be <1%.  And that kind of bias comes through in reporting, not only in terms of what is said, but more significantly in what is not said and what is not reported on. 

      • ulTRAX

        Too late to “starve the beast”. We The People are now some $14.5 TRILLION in debt… largely from the fiscal irresponsibility of the “starve the beast, tax cut” psychos on the Right. It’s beyond belief that so many spoiled rotten rightists actually believe they’re paying too much in taxes even after we’ve pissed away some $13.5 trillion on ourselves the past 30 years we REFUSED to tax ourselves for. $13.5 trillion bought quite the party and now comes the hangover.

        • Winston Smith

          There is enough blame to go around.  Yes, the Republicans cut taxes for the rich without cutting spending.  And got us into one unjustified and unpaid for war in Iraq.  And they justify subsidies to Big Oil, which i certainly don’t support.

          But the Democrats never met a social program that they didn’t like and created the unsustainable Medicare flywheel that is bankrupt and that wastes tens of billions every year.  They greatly underestimated the initial cost (by a factor of 10′s) in order to ram the program through the Democratically controlled congress in the 60′s and now we get to pay for it.  And they caved in to their government union employees and gave unrealistic pension and retirement benefits both in terms of retirement age and pension amounts.
          Both parties are at fault, and government doesn’t spend their money as wisely as you or I do.  And yes, now that we are $15 Trillion in debt with no end in sight, it is too late.  It is simply a matter of time (and maybe not too much time) before the whole system collapses under the weight of our debt.

          • ulTRAX

            WS wrote: “Yes, the Republicans cut taxes for the rich without cutting spending.”You don’t see how laughable your observation is? So pretend the GOP did cut spending by the exact amount of their tax cuts? How would going budget neutral pay down debt? You need surplus REVENUE to pay down debt… and that’s the situation Clinton handed Bush. But all through the campaign 2000 Bush claimed that surplus proved we were “overtaxed” even though that debt was still there.The reason Bush was so fiscally irresponsible is because he intended to create more debt. Overspending while in power and leaving the new debt for the Dems to deal with has been the strategy of the GOP since the 80′s. It may be fiscal insanity but from their point of view it’s good short politics because they can bring home the bacon to their own constituents, and long term strategy because debt will undermine Democratic programs. Unfortunately they needed to create a narrative to redefine this fiscal irresponsibility into the opposite… and the Orwellian Right propaganda industry rose to the occasion.    

    • nj

      Take away all government subsidies and tax breaks for fossils fuels and nuclear, make the end-user price of energy from these sources  reflect the currently externalized costs (pollution, global warming, etc.) then let’s talk about the “financials.”

    • steve

      Wholly rational capitalists with short minded thinking supported by untenable depreciation accounting practices and tax laws.  Further, traditional industries have been receiving tax breaks and subsidies for at least 60 years.

      • Jasoturner

        I understand what you are saying but think you are making a different point. 

        It may well be true that the rules of the game are broken, but that strikes me as a separate conversation.

        My observation is that, if we assume that the current marketplace reflects the current rules of the game, solar is not cost effective.

        I agree completely that if the rules are changed, solar can be competitive.

        It would actually be great if Tom could host a show elaborating on the subsidies enjoyed by the energy industry to help put things in perspective.

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

          Soon enough, cost effectiveness won’t be the question.  When there’s no more oil (or oil that can be extracted effectively), what will we use?

          • Jasoturner

            If America wants to remain independent and wants to leverage what’s left of it’s engineering talent, uranium.

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

            Again, that’s a finite resource, one that we need for specialized applications.

            Given the environmental effects of energy production, renewables are the way that we have to go–dams, wind turbines, solar panels.

          • ulTRAX

            Hey… don’t forget my favorite… perpetual motion!!!

          • ulTRAX

            Seriously… wait until my gravitational influx collector hits the market!!!!  Nope, hang on. Exxon on the phone… with a deal I can’t refuse? Why is that? No way will I deal with you scumbags!!!! Look outside? Hey do those goons have Molotov Cocktails? WTF are you threatening to burn my house down? Holy crap!!!! OK OK… I’ll make a dea……………

          • nj

            Can we store the waste in your basement?

          • twenty-niner

            The most effective nuclear power plant is the giant fireball in the sky, otherwise referred to as the sun. And all you have to do to extract its energy is point some mirrors (as in thermal solar) or silicon panels in its general direction.

  • nj

    Properly (re-)negotited, so-called “free-trade” agreements would not allow the flooding of U.S. markets with cheap Chinese crap that pollutes  large areas of that country, causes job losses in the U.S., and makes it impossible for environmentally and socially responsible companies to make good products at competitive prices.

    • Anonymous

      But influential Americans can deploy their capital to take advantage of these unfair (to the vast majority) circumstances, make huge profits, AND pay taxes on that gain at rates that have never been lower, and below those paid by labor.  They’re the “job creators”, dontcha’ know.

  • Markus

    I’m hopeful that this show will, like Jasoturner has done, attempt to provide real numbers instead of the broad generalities we usually hear. We recycle 80% of our household waste (at least the stuff that goes in the garbage). Another NPR show once said that processing the recycled material has a higher negative impact on the environment than simply dumping it in a landfill. But the show didn’t say what they were measuring.  
    So, what are the current total costs for these alternatives (wind, solar panels, etc.)? These should include manufacturing costs, tax breaks, installations, etc.
    What are the total quantifiable benefits?
    That said, there are a lot of elements that are non-measureable. The long term impact on the environment, for one. Also, any time you invest in renewables, it’s a vote for a greater focus on these things. E.g. buying a Prius (assuming it has a lower environmental impact) probably has minimal impact even if half the people in the US bought Prius’. But it is a vote for greater energy efficiency that manufacturers will notice.

    Anyway, for today, it’d be nice to get more facts.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    The simple fact that many on the right refuse to admit is that we have probably reached peak oil already.  If we haven’t yet, it’s coming soon.  Oil is a finite resource.  The rate at which new oil is generated is far too slow to meet demand.  While a couple of solar companies have failed, the technology is a good one and deserves development.  If solar doesn’t work, we’ll have to find something else, and the government will have to contribute to research and development.

    • ulTRAX

      Technically oil isn’t a finite resource. It’s a matter of the cost of production. Most of the world’s easy-to-get-at reserves have been tapped and what’s left becomes increasingly more expensive. Peak Oil is more of an economic concept than an geological one. If we’re willing to pay $150-$200 for a barrel, there’s plenty. Of course at that prices alternatives become more viable. The question is how do we plan for a smooth transition when market forces alone send such mixed signals… in part because of massive speculation in the oil markets, but historically OPEC has modulated the price to prevent alternatives from becoming viable. Then, of course, fossil fuels have received massive backdoor subsidies that aren’t included in the market price… such as the occasional Oil War. What if there were a tax on Persian Gulf oil that reflected the true military price of bringing it safely and predictably to market? Ouch!  

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

        Oil is produced by the transformation of plant and animal matter into a mineral.  That change happens slowly–millions of years.  What I’m saying is that the inlet pipe to the tank is a garden hose, and we’re draining the tank with a sewer pipe.

        • ulTRAX

          I’m just paraphrasing what Barry Commoner said back in the late 70′s that we’ll never really run out of oil… but at some point it will be too expensive to exploit. Peak oil predictions are entirely based on economics and those economics are in flux. But clearly Peak Oil WILL come no doubt within the next 20-30 years. I just it’s silly to make predictions precisely when it will occur because there are just too many factors that distort market pricing… like speculation on the demand side and new oil discoveries like the Bakken Formation in ND on the supply side.


      • Hill Walker

        Not exactly. Close, and partially true. 

        Regardless of what ‘we are willing to pay’, it’s a matter of energy return on energy invested. also known as EROEI.

        If it takes 1 barrel of oil to extract 100 barrels of oil, that’s one economy of scale (setting aside all other aspects, such as war and genocide, and destruction of the ecosystem). if it takes 1 barrel of oil to extract 10 barrels of oil, that’s a completely different economy of scale. If you factor in the barrels of oil equivalent (boe) energy of all aspects of the equipment, it’s manufacture, it’s recovery etc etc, we’re already below this margin now, although that HARD REALITY is not reflected in the current market price. 

        If it take 1 barrel of oil (boe) to extract 1 barrel of oil, then it doesn’t matter how much ‘we are willing to pay’ for it. it just will not work, at all. and at that eroei, there will be plenty of oil still left in the ground. 

        We past the peak a few years back, even the IEA admits that now, and for their troubles, they are being defunded. truth hurts. 

  • Anonymous

    We should let China bear the cost of developing renewable energy technology and then see how they like being on the receiving end of government sponsored corporate espionage for a change.

  • Duke

    The problem in the US is simply that the Republicans, fed by big money from fossil fuel companies, have been resisting “alternative” energy for decades. Add to that their vehement opposition to anything President Obama tries to introduce, and it’s no surprise that the solar power industry in the US is dying on the vine.

    I would like to refer you to last Sunday’s (9/25) Doonesbury

    • ulTRAX

      Thanks for that credible citation. But seriously I do seem to remember Big Oil buying up alternative energy companies back in the 80′s. Of course when Reagan killed Carter’s alternative energy program, many of these companies were going for a song.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Interesting to see that Greenpeace is an equal-opportunity monkey wrench.

  • troll doll

    We are paying the price for moving manufacturing overseas the past 4 decades and endless subsidies/oil wars.

  • Bobl1234 from Columbus

    There is a big difference between “playing by THE rules” and “playing by OUR rules”.  The history of each country is embedded in the institutions that characterize the present of each country.  To cast what China does as wrong because they are playing by THEIR rules, instead of OURS. 

  • GretchenMo

    Upgrading the grid and incentivizing conservation would obviate the need for throwing good money after bad in non-sensical wind, solar and corn-based ethanol projects. 

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      How are those nonsensical?  They do work, and they are much less polluting.  They can be made and operated here, rather than in countries that we don’t like.  That sounds sensible to me.

    • ulTRAX

      And by your logic, such as it is, we should instead continue to provide massive subsidies to fossil fuels via the back door… such as the military costs of the occasional Oil War, because the superficial market economics make sense?

      How would fossil fuels fare if the costs of ALL the backdoor subsidies were incorporated in the market cost of oil? This info is a bit dated but illustrative. Back in ’99 the costs of our interventions in the Persia Gulf region amounted to about $1.00 PER GALLON of oil or gasoline. Why should those costs NOT be included in the price if that’s what was required to insure the oil safely and predictably be brought to market? How about the estimated $1 trillion cost of our second Oil War… Bush’s Iraq invasion?

      • GretchenMo

        How did the wars reduce the price of thermal coal and natural gas, almost all of which we source domestically?  I got it, you’ve got a point to make over and over again and reality is not going to get in the way. 

        • ulTRAX

          That I was referring to crude SHOULD have been evident from my constant mention of OIL, the Persian Gulf and associated Oil Wars there. But I should never assume people someone like you will grasp the obvious. After all you’re the one who also says speculation played NO role in the price run-up of crude in 2008 to $147 a barrel. Guess you haven’t seen those leaked CFTC spreadsheets for short and long positions held by Goldman Sachs and others in that run up to $147 a barrel oil. The truth is finally coming out… that your interim 2008 CFTC report was a cover-up. Never mind, I’m sure reality won’t get in your way of regurgitating all your right wing talking points. So your point again is… what? There are NO backdoor subsidies to crude oil?

          • GretchenMo

            Oh, so you were just off topic, not uninformed; I’m sure you know we get little electricity from crude oil.  I was assuming you understood how electricity is generated, my bad.  You would rather blather on about whether speculation took WTI up to $147 but can’t explain why it seems to be missing at <$80, speculators on vacation.  Show me the spreadsheets that show Goldman's net long/short position for its own account; I don't need to see what client trades they were directed to execute, you understand what a broker is don't you.  Not a given looking at your comments which suggest limited experience and knowledge of the world around you. 

          • ulTRAX

            And in your mind it’s “off-topic” to question those who claim green energy isn’t competitive? Aside from hydro, green energy might not yet be competitive and there are obvious problems because the sun doesn’t always shine nor the wind doesn’t always blow. But in a market where the price of crude is so distorted by direct and indirect subsidies who knows where that gap is? And if one starts to factor in the full cost of all fossil fuels to the environment who knows where green energy might fare in the market?

            Which also brings up the topic of the catch 22 it faces in a reluctant and unpredictable market. Solar panel costs would drop if economies of scale were employed, but the market isn’t sending predictable enough pricing signals to insure private sector investment… which brings us to public sector intervention.  

            As to your second point, just how naive are you to suggest there was NEVER rampant speculation in 2008 because crude prices are falling now? Speculators are always looking for “investment” opportunities… predictable markets, better yet if they can be manipulated. With mixed signals about world economic growth and equity prices falling, why stay in oil? (Maybe some speculators lost big. Is that you’re proof they’re not there?) But there are always other markets to manipulate like gold and food. My position, and I’m sure it’s not yours, is that such speculation needs to be stamped out so all this capital can be redirected to productive purposes. We don’t need these parasites sucking the lifeblood out of the economy.    

            As for that list of crude oil speculators in 2008


            Even Wikileaks has documentation that the Saudis repeatedly warned the US that supply was NOT an issue and price escalation in the market was due to rampant speculation…


            So there REAL question here isn’t what happened in 2008 but why YOU’RE here constantly denying what happened then… and trying so desperately to pretend there are no speculators in the crude oil market today. Enquiring minds want to know.   

  • AC

    ah. thank you guest – I hate that silly intellectual property issue..

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      What about it do you hate?

      • AC

        personally, i don’t believe in not recognizing talent. it’s the same reason i don’t steal software, or music off the internet. tho, i admit, my firends do and i don’t say anything….

        • AC

          or knock-off clothes/purses….

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

          Ah, you’re on my side then.  I’m trying to get my stories and novels published, so I support intellectual property rights.

          • ulTRAX

            Check Amazon… they allow private ebook publishing and the author can get somewhere around 75% of the price.

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

            Yeah, I’m a traditionalist…

          • ulTRAX

            But if you’re not getting published…

            Hey, digital technology has allowed musicians and video artists to bypass the traditional gatekeepers… and now this service should be a boon for budding authors.  

          • AC

            for Chinese authors too?

  • S.C. listener

    Solyndra was requiring customers to buy their engineering design service. They would not sell the solar tubes without a design service tagged onto the bill. 

  • ulTRAX

    There were always many downsides with the US leading the free trade parade back in the 90′s. Not only were there the hidden costs when we deindustrialized America leaving communities without employers and workers needing retraining, but with China demanding technology transfers from the companies of the US and other nations, we were subsidizing the growth of our biggest competitor… both economically AND militarily.


    Such is the genius of the Free Trade fanatics on the Right.

    • ulTRAX

      BTW, even though Clinton was a Democratic cheerleader for free trade… and deregulation, Clinton was a DLC Democrat… adopting right wing ideas to go after corporate money. With the two major parties waltzing around each other stealing each other positions, the party designation doesn’t mean what it used to. If there was any wisdom here it came from the liberal wing of the Democratic party who voted against free trade… and deregulation.

  • Charlie

    Interesting that US defense contractors are funding tech transfer to Taiwan to satisfy offset obligations from arms sales

  • Tom G

    Of course it’s too late for the U.S. in much of the Green Tech Revolution! Thank the Republicans for obstructing, at every turn, for many decades now, all attempts to subsidize green technology because it was at the expense of their Corporate Masters.

  • Joe

    Q: Is there a national security angle to this debate. If the US installed Chinese made green energy products here in the US, aren’t we trading oil insecurity (mid-east suppliers) with Chinese green insecurity?

  • Dana

    I had 2 friends visiting from Poland for a week and they each spend above of $3000 buying clothes, shoes, bags, cosmetics, etc mostly by American designers. Unfortunately there was ‘ made in China’ on all of the labels. We’ve lost to China long time ago by our own choosing when moving manufacturing of everything over there. But it is up to us Americans to change that – let’s stop buying anything made in China – even the next IPhone or IPad.

  • Solar D

    I’m the CEO of solar panel & wind turbine distribution company. After decades of the US losing production jobs to China, I can’t believe that anyone truly thinks that the US innovating technologies and then exporting it to China for production truly helps America. Jobs in solar finance and services is not enough to keep America employed.  We need those manufacturing jobs. My belief is that while China continues to unfairly subsidize their solar industry and play with their currency, the only way for the US to protect and create jobs in the US is to tariff all products from China (not just aluminum).  And hey, if China someday decides to play fairly we can remove those tariffs.

  • ulTRAX

    In an era where there are MASSIVE backdoor subsidies for fossil fuels, and where the true costs to the environment of using these fuels isn’t incorporated in their price… how can the guest claim renewable isn’t cost competitive with fossil fuels?

  • Yar

    40 Chinese cents is 6.24 US Cents, that is cheaper than most US electricity.  60 Chinese cents for clean energy is less than a dime per KWH.  I would buy solar at that price.

  • Kristin

    Why don’t we focus on solar hot water?  Germany and China are doing that.  In Vermont, the Vermont Public Interest Group has made solar hot water more affordable by bulk sales to solar communities.  I will get solar hot water for my home in November, at $3000 less than it would have been a year ago.  The $5200 cost will pay for itself in 6-7 years.

    • Yar

      I agree, what about requiring all new water heater tanks have a solar heating loop capability.  Then you could add the roof panels yourself and save money.
      See my comment on solar thermal storage below.

    • Worried for the country(MA)

      Sounds good but are there tax payer subsidies or federal tax credits?

      btw – I grew up with solar hot water installed in the 70s oil crisis.  It worked great for 20 years but when my parents sold their house the new owners insisted removal of the ‘eyesore’ (in the back of the house) as a condition of sale.  Sad.

      • ulTRAX

        There’s a local city building in town that’s had its solar hotwater panels up since the late 70s… still going strong.

        • Worried for the country(MA)


  • Al hansen

    we subsidize oil with the lives of our soldiers. Market indeed!

  • Carlo

    Of course China is winning, they have a command economy.  And in the US the repubs receive their orders from the Koch brothers, whose agenda is totally against green energy and environmental concerns.  But let’s not forget, during the ‘gilded age’ the oil industry became powerful due to all sorts of government help, both legal and otherwise.  And they get away with it because as a society we have become lazy and middle age.  We cling to our habits.  Instead of “Let’s try something new.” it’s “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”  Freedom is defined by the right to be stupid and wasteful and drive a car that gets 10 miles a gallon and use incandescent light bulbs and run the ac 24/7. …We need to adjust our view of life, and freedom, and leisure and work …

    • Cory

      Nice post.  People should never forget that freedom is relative.  It really is not an absolute.

    • Cory

      Nice post.  People should never forget that freedom is relative.  It really is not an absolute.

  • Pffefer

    Geez, Tom and everyone are just basically rooting for China to fail.

    • Cory

      I know I am.  They live on the other side of the world and are culturally alien to us.  My family and friends live HERE, and I want all the prosperity HERE that can be reasonably managed.  We live in a free market world with winners and losers.  Question is, do you wanna be Germany or Somalia?

      I’ll say it blountly.  I AM ROOTING FOR CHINA TO FAIL.

  • Lee

    Wait a minute, let not give up. Last year we had a $1.9 billion global trade surplus on solar equipment, the trade balance with China was over $200 million in our favor. Everyone is focusing on China push, we need to push to keep our positive balance of trade and to keep this industry going.

  • Jack W. Wilbert

    On Point: This program was very thought provoking and starts to ask the critical in depth questions of why it takes the U.S. so long to get its act together and get into dealing with the crucial issues of peaking fossil fuels and planet warming, both of which will kill us in the long term. China is on the move while we continue to sputter and banter and say that when renewables become profitable we will jump right into the market. What a stupid, naive comment! If we have economists in decisionmaking of that mindset, I truly pity my grandchildren. Please keep up the great work and take the discussion to next level! Dig in! 

    • Cory

      China’s government can decide what is best in the long term and act without political consequences.  American democracy has reached the point where everything must instantly be good a show results.  Just look at the president.  Elected with control of congress (mandate?).  Two years of mixed or poor results and he is despised by many who voted for him.  The Chinese may have found the political holy grail of benevolent totalitarianism.

    • Cugoano

      We have a congress that proposes ideologically right wing bills that democrats are not bloody likely going to vote for, yet there is a large fraction of republicans who won’t vote for the same bills because they ain’t far enough to the right. I.e., gridlock. 

  • twenty-niner

    This show is so aggravating, it almost made my head explode. Clearly, the Chinese are violating trade agreements (that’s a laugh) and dumping product to put American companies out of business. And this walking teleprompter sometimes referred to as the President does nothing, while solar companies, some backed with taxpayer-guaranteed loans are driven into oblivion. It’s called a TARIFF, you giant spineless wet noodle.

    • Cory

      Tariff is a dirty word in America, let alone the whispering of the word isolationism.  ANY restraint of the free market and global trade does not compute to the biggies at the top whose aim is ever to maximize profit in the context of a single business cycle.

    • Anonymous

      Well, we are lowering the value of our currency aren’t we?  That’s a defacto Tariff.  Not to mention pulling China’s currency down too.

      • twenty-niner

        Depends on who’s fiat confetti you’re referring to. The dollar has been rallying strongly against the Euro, which is going the way of the Confederate dollar.

        • Charles A. Bowsher

          Actually, most Confederate dollars are worth more than face value. You may want to update your comparison.

    • Cugoano

      You do realize that republicans are traditionally against tariffs, and if there is any tariff the republicans would try to block, it would be this one. 

      And by the way, we’ll see who looks more like a teleprompter during the general election debates.

  • Cory

    Here is an idea.  ALL NEW CONSTRUCTION in the US from here on out MUST include a solar power component, and this required component MUST be American made.  One building, no big benefit.  Thousands of structures and there ya go.

    I won’t sweat the details.  It is simple, easy to enforce, and couldn’t help but create US jobs and foward the operational technology.

    It won’t happen because this type of simple, common sense measure is impossible for us in 2011.

    • twenty-niner

      Exactly. What’s amazing is not one candidate has the courage or foresight to push such a measure, or even take industrial policy or trade up as a major issue. I’ve heard Romney dance around this topic a little bit, but all any one of this morons can focus on is taxes.

      HEY MORONS, the reason Solyndra went under isn’t over taxation. You pay taxes on profits, which is what you have after you pay your expenses. Solyndra couldn’t even pay their expenses, which is why they went out of business, moron. And the reason they couldn’t pay there expenses is because of Chinese dumping.


    • Anonymous

      I listened to the second half of this discussion this morning and I was quite disappointed at how One Sided the discussion was.

      I am no fan of Subsidies.

      But the problem is that there is no Demand for these green products because it is not Manditory for Anyone to buy them.

      My plan goes like this…

      Any house to be sold for $1 Million or more in 2012 (new or old) will need to be fitted or retro-fitted with enough Green Energy to cover at least 1/2 the average monthly electrical useage for that home. 

      Any house to be sold for $900,000 or more in 2013 (new or old) will need to be fitted or retro-fitted with enough Green Energy to cover at least 1/2 the average monthly electrical useage for that home.

      and so on and so forth until all homes are covered.

      If rich people are forced to go green first, and there is a HUGE market for green products forth coming, they will invest their capital in green companies.

      THEN you do the subsidies.

      In the field of dreams… If you build it, they will come

      If the field of greens…  If you regulate, they will build it, because they have to come.

      And I didn’t even get into my disappointment in our countries inability to move forward with some sort of Cap and Trade program…  The fact that this type of thing isn’t already in process is typical stupid short sighted America and more importantly Wall Street.

      • Worried for the country(MA)

        My plan goes like this….

        Every household valued for $1 Million or more in 2012 will be mandated to purchase 3 guns.

        Every household valued for $900K in 2013 will be mandated to purchase 3 guns.

        and so forth.

        Pretty soon home break ins will be history.


    • Zing

      Great idea. Regulation and mandates are what drove business from our shores, so let’s create more burden for the domestic construction industry which the poor and middle class can pay for with lost opportunity and high cost as the end users. Brilliant.

      • Cory

        I don’t feel very obligated to respond to someone advocating deregulation and the good ole free market as a solution these days.

      • ulTRAX

        No, trying to escape all those costs that a civilized economy requires is what drove many businesses to flee… you know the costs, worker safety, pollution controls, benefits, Social Security, unemployment taxes, pensions etc… all horrible stuff.  

        That, and we made it possible to bring cheap and slave labor goods back into the US to compete with those businesses that had a social conscience and stayed.

        Deindustrializing the economy… just another of those BRILLIANT Right wing ideas like irresponsible tax cuts that sabotaged the finances of government.

      • Redherring111

        We won’t hold our breath waiting for any evidence for this: ” Regulation and mandates are what drove business from our shores…”

  • Cory

    Here is an idea.  ALL NEW CONSTRUCTION in the US from here on out MUST include a solar power component, and this required component MUST be American made.  One building, no big benefit.  Thousands of structures and there ya go.

    I won’t sweat the details.  It is simple, easy to enforce, and couldn’t help but create US jobs and foward the operational technology.

    It won’t happen because this type of simple, common sense measure is impossible for us in 2011.

  • Marco

    Let China build the panels…it will only help us.

    The way I see it, China loses because

    1- They incur all the pollution in making the panels
    2- They incur the losses associated with building and selling the panels below cost
    3- The vast majority of China’s citizens can’t afford to buy or have a place to install these panels

    The US benefits because

    1- Cheaper panels means more companies and private residences can afford to buy/install these panels. This will only benefit us households and businesses

    2- Cheaper panels means more opportunities for businesses to grow and/or market the installation, servicing and financing of these systems. For every $1 in H/W costs, there is probably $2 in costs associated with the service related aspect of these panels. That is where the money is (just look at the cost of a central A/C system or a heating system as examples).

    I think the federal government should make it easier for companies to grow in the service related market for these panels.

    Just think of all the benefits and the money available if just 5% of commercial establishments and/or 3% of households installed these systems, it is in the billions of dollars!

    Not to mention the lowering of carbon footprints in the USA.

    I think we should cheer china for doing the dirty work in building and dumping these panels in the market. Let’s cheer while we benefit from the cheaper costs to install these systems and smile at how are environment is getting cleaner at the same time.

    • Worried for the country(MA)

      Good theory but its a lose-lose.  Solar is still too expensive.  Also, the energy threat in US is more about transportation ie, OIL, not electric power.

  • GrueneJim

    Your commentators sounded about as convincing as the candidates in the Florida debates last week. Solar thermal is a perfect match for the southern half of the US. In Texas we average 300 days of sunshine a year: a perfect climate for generating electricity with solar thermal steam turbines. American citizens and homeowners are at the mercy of a public utility industry that profits from our monthly payments. Building codes promote the construction of homes and buildings that are energy dependent. Developers are using home owner associations to prevent homeowners from becoming energy independent. The real concerns of American workers and homeowners are not reflected in abstract political rhetoric. Many of us just want to live independently in the real world. 

  • Ebpinnyc

    You’re all missing the point, which is buried in the report: the Chinese are making solar panels for export, only; they’re powering themselves with coal-powered plants. Solar power is expensive, and intermittent. Fossil-fueld plants are reliable and cheap. I’m not saying they’re clean but fossil-fueled plants support all kinds of manufacturing jobs–in China and could continue to do so here.

    To reduce our carbon footprint, while creating jobs, we should focus on electric automobiles and switching from coal plants to natural gas-powered plants. This doesn’t eliminate carbon but it halves it in a cost-efficient way.

  • Charbusk

    You talk about renewables. …. What about the clean and most controllable for the grid operators … Hydro?

    • X-Ray

      We are pulling down dams which produce hydro power because they hinder the free flow of some fish species. We must be our priorities straight.

  • Andy B

    Tom Ashbrook: The Solyndra story has shades of corruption which might make a good investigative show.  Your questions and overall work is excellent.


  • Hill Walker

    Some good comments here, some deeply clueless ones as well. yeah, coal is nice and cheap, as long as you can externalize ALL associated costs. Furthermore, we’ll figure out what coal really costs when we figure out how much money it takes to manufacture coal. Right now, we’re just depleting (wasting) a resource from 300-ish million years ago. Will take a while before this resource is renewed. As long as this FACT is ignored in the pricing of the resource, then the so-called economics of this type of energy are incomplete, to say the least. Shortsighted.

    The atmospheric carbon aspect is a very real issue, but in some regards, it is also a bit of a red herring. Simply put, this energy resource is in depletion. The costs will go up, it is already artificially depressed by massive forces. talking about the relative costs, when the actual costs are completely ignored for no other reason than convenience is bordering on disingenuous. 
    And to the fans of ‘real world’, No, you are wrong. Pure and simple. In the real world, these resources not only come at massive environmental and social cost. They are fixed resources, use = depletion. Since this is never taken into account, all talk about relative cost is basically BS. 
    Nuclear power was started as an excuse for the bomb folks to keep making bombs. Sorry, how it is. We can have a discussion about handling nuclear waste as soon as someone comes up with an idea about handling nuclear waste that makes sense. Thusfar, this hasn’t happened. No it hasn’t. 

    Fusion is the future, we already have a pretty good nuclear fusion reactor in place. It already powers pretty much everything. it’s reasonably safe. it’s called the sun. 

    This is the only way forward. 

  • Hill Walker

    And for what it’s worth, 

    We the People are most assuredly our own worst enemy in most of these matters. Some mention was made of solar installers in California having to spend 4 or more hours compiling all the necessary paper work and permits to hang some solar panels on the roof of a residence. This *should* be no bigger a deal than installing a dryer outlet. Yes, I know it’s more involved than that, but as far as the utility and regional code authority is concerned, it should be a no-brainer. Permit, install, inspection, go. Should take a single site visit, pass or fail. That’s ALL. There are so many hoops to jump through, it’s completely obvious that no one beyond the homeowner is actually interested in dealing with this. Yes, there are some monies available for rebates and tax credits and the like, but these monies are so closely held, that it’s clear this is more akin to lip service, than actual dedication to the stated goals. 

    On the other hand, anytime there are tax advantages involved, there is an entire class that is devoted to exploiting this to beyond the breaking point. Just like during the Carter years, there are fly-by-nights out there seeking to soak up what money can be had, then moving on to the next victim. Just like the vendors of products specifically designed to exploit medicare payments. No different. 
    In big round numbers,  1 lb of high quality coal = 1kwh of energy. take all costs and expenses of everything involved in consuming that 1kwh of energy into account, tack on a few percent for ‘return on investment’ and then let the market decide. Solar will end up being the last nickle deal in the world. 

    If anyone actually is interested in what the foundation of the state of renewable energy is in the USA, then they need to dig around and find a copy of Ray Reece’s 1979 work, “The Sun betrayed: a report on the corporate seizure of U.S. solar energy development.” If you have not read this, then you likely are not aware of the foundation upon which the US’s energy policies are built. Co-generated power, in the form of solar electic, solar thermal, small scale wind, conservation, etc, democratize the energy market. when folks are taking tangible responsibility for their use, then their use patterns change, radically. This is good for all. 

  • X-Ray

    Solar has fundamental problems. There is no production at night, or under overcast or cloudy conditions. So there must be a 100% baseload backup. That kills the economics of solar. Only under in small parts of the country does it have a chance of coming near breakeven. Government payments are required to tip the scales. Even the White House removed its panels. Not ready for prime time yet.

    • Guest

      The Solar Panels were NOT removed from the Whitehouse because they didn’t work but rather because of POLITICS. Do your research, please.

      • X-Ray

        Thomas Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, a free-market analysis group in Washington, said the rooftop panels will underscore hostility by Obama toward fossil fuels such as coal.
        ‘Ineffective, Expensive’
        Solar energy is “ineffective, expensive and unreliable and will continue to be in our lifetimes and probably our children’s lifetimes and beyond,” Pyle said in an interview.

      • X-Ray

        Shown me one significant installation which uses batteries to provide coverage during nights, rainy or cloudy days. Any such installation would only serve to make the PV more uneconomical. Your blue sky optimism is divorced from reality.
        I am an engineer in energy efficiency. I must deal in the real world. 

      • Michele

        You’re right.  Carter installed them during the Oil Crisis and Reagan removed them to show that America was energy independent.  

    • nj

      Your argument has fundamental problems.

      X-ray blathers, “There is no production at night, or under overcast or cloudy conditions.”

      On partly cloudy days, solar pv produces about 80% of it’s total potential; about 25% on overcast days.

      And X-ray is apparently unaware of batteries.

      • Worried for the country(MA)

        Sorry but X-Ray is right-on.  Rooftop solar is about 3X market cost today just for the power.  If you were to factor in costs of battery backup it would more than double the cost.

        However, there are synergies with peak load generation and solar.

        Solar technology is progressing rapidly and storage technology is progressing rapidly but we are a long way off from baseline solar.

        Many researchers believe the best hope for solar storage is the generation of H2 gas.  The H2 can then be used to power a fuel cell.  There is progress in this area but it is a long ways off from grid parity.

    • Max Million

      Actually, concentrated solar and thermal tower solar can produce energy all night – Google it.  Also, nearly all economic analyses of solar are obsolete by the time they are published because the cost of panels is dropping so rapidly – far beyond anyone’s (like Solyndra’s) expectations , primarily due to chinese subsidies (see threads below).   And for those of you poo-pooing wind power,  take a look at what Denmark has done.  When the wind blows, it powers 50% of the national energy grid!!

      • X-Ray

        Actually, the figure is closer to 20%, when the wind is blowing. And when it’s not, what make up the deficit? And don’t tell me batteries. Further, last year the announcement was made: “Last month, unnoticed in the UK, Denmark’s giant state-owned power company, Dong Energy, announced that it would abandon future onshore wind farms in the country.” If it’s such a good idea, why is the world’s leader retrenching? You are a Blue Sky optimist, with an opinion unsupported by hard experience.

    • Michele

      The real concern is the cost of production of the equipment vs. the payback. (Read; Solyndra) Payback because of equipment costs vs. energy output is long.  Most larger buildings would use what they produce during the day thus negating the storage issue.  Solar and another technology combined – fuel cell or geo-thermal are required to make ANY renewable system workable.  It is silly to see one system as a solution for all of our energy woes and needs.  A combined, common-sense approach makes more sense financially and environmentally.  When people run to the latest and greatest thing and see that it’s not a silver bullet they then run the other way or decide that the continued use of fossil burning energy sources is the only solution.  Our environment would be much better off with the use of a combination of environmentally friendly solutions. 

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  • Taamdee

    Thailand have new Solar Thermal Technology by
    Chaadsawhed Group. this systems can do Temp over 1000 c.

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Aug 22, 2014
Attorney General Eric Holder talks with Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol at Drake's Place Restaurant, Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, in Florrissant, Mo. (AP)

The National Guard and Eric Holder in Ferguson. ISIS beheads an American journalist. Texas Governor Rick Perry gets a mug shot. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

Aug 22, 2014
In this image from video posted on Facebook, courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, former President George W. Bush participates in the ice bucket challenge with the help of his wife, Laura Bush, in Kennebunkport, Maine. (AP)

The Ice Bucket Challenge: ALS, viral fundraising and how we give in the age of social media.

Aug 21, 2014
Jen Joyce, a community manager for the Uber rideshare service, works on a laptop before a meeting of the Seattle City Council, Monday, March 17, 2014, at City Hall in Seattle. (AP)

We’ll look at workers trying to live and make a living in the age of TaskRabbit and computer-driven work schedules.

Aug 21, 2014
In this November 2012, file photo, posted on the website freejamesfoley.org, shows American journalist James Foley while covering the civil war in Aleppo, Syria. In a horrifying act of revenge for U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq, militants with the Islamic State extremist group have beheaded Foley — and are threatening to kill another hostage, U.S. officials say. (AP)

An American is beheaded. We’ll look at the ferocity of ISIS, and what to do about it.

On Point Blog
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Friday, Aug 22, 2014

On mixed media messaging, Spotify serendipity and a view of Earth from the International Space Station.

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Your (Weird? Wonderful? Wacky?) Roommate Stories
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