Solar-powered insolvency

Solar-powered insolvency

July 8th, 2012 in Opinion Free Press

Is it too much to ask that the United States get through a few months without another massively government-subsidized solar energy company going belly-up?

Forget the half-billion-dollar boondoggle at now-defunct solar panel maker Solyndra. That's so last year.

Now it's a Loveland, Colo., concern by the name of Abound Solar that has said it will be filing for bankruptcy and closing shop.

Abound used up nearly $70 million of its $400 million federal loan guarantee before the rather less-than-vigilant U.S. Department of Energy cut off the gravy supply a few months back.

Now, Abound plans to lay off its 125 workers -- an interesting turn of events in light of the fact that Energy Department loan guarantees were, in the words of The New York Times, "intended to stimulate employment ... ."

Hard to figure, but somehow the federal government misjudged Abound's chances of success when it forked over a truckload of your tax dollars to the company.

"Our government is not good at picking winners and losers in the marketplace but has certainly proved it is good at wasting taxpayer dollars," U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said after Abound made its not especially surprising announcement.

But look on the bright side: Abound was a relative bargain. California-based Solyndra had burned through almost all of its $535 million federal loan before it retired to the land of Edsels and New Coke.

Can it really be that Washington politicians and bureaucrats who have never run a business and never had to meet a payroll aren't in the best position to say which sorts of companies will make it and which ones won't? Is there a nugget of truth in the view that the free market is more competent than government when it comes to selecting and then rewarding manufacturers of superior mousetraps -- or solar panels or cars?

Nah, couldn't be. Washington would no more throw good money after bad in the solar power industry than it would lavish billions of dollars annually on counterproductive farm subsidies or on demonstrably failed programs such as Head Start.

Oh, wait... .