More 'free' stimulus money for solar panels

More 'free' stimulus money for solar panels

September 15th, 2011 in Opinion Free Press

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee is one of the latest local businesses to use money from the federal "stimulus" to install solar panels on one of its buildings -- and who can fault the company for accepting "free money" from Washington to do that?

BlueCross has put the big solar power system atop the Gateway Building on West M.L. King Boulevard.

The company will pay about $210,000 for the project, but taxpayers will pay even more: An additional $243,000 for the project is coming from the "stimulus" through the Tennessee Solar Institute, and hundreds of thousands more dollars will be provided through federal and state tax credits and other government aid.

Again, we do not fault well-respected and economically important BlueCross for making use of money that the government provided to help the company reduce its energy costs.

But the government assistance distorts the free market by underwriting the cost of the solar panels and requiring taxpayers to help fund the operations of a private business.

On a related note, despite Washington's massive aid to the solar power industry, there have been multiple bankruptcies in recent weeks of heavily subsidized solar power companies. Solyndra, a California company, got half a billion dollars in federal loan guarantees -- but recently declared bankruptcy, leaving taxpayers with the bill. More than 1,000 of its workers will lose their jobs. And there was apparently very little oversight of Solyndra while it was receiving all that money. The FBI has now launched an investigation of the company in the wake of its bankruptcy.

"The FBI raid further underscores that Solyndra was a bad bet from the beginning and put taxpayers at unnecessary risk," U.S. Reps. Fred Upton of Michigan and Cliff Stearns of Florida noted in a statement. "Irresponsibly choosing winners and losers on projects like Solyndra is a perilous and often doomed method to create jobs."

That is exactly right. Government should not be subsidizing either alternative energy such as wind and solar or traditional energy such as oil and natural gas. Individuals and businesses alike should pick -- and pay for -- energy according to its true free-market cost, without government distortion.