Monday, November 15, 2010

Green/cleantech update

Bill Frezza surveys the state of green industry:
We are so awash in excess ethanol capacity that startup producers are going broke while Archer Daniels Midland - a case study in corporate welfare - clamors to raise the gasoline blending mandate to 15% as it is the only hope of unloading the stuff. Yet none other than Greenpeace has joined with nine other environmental groups to issue a report called "Driving to Destruction" claiming that biofuels are 81% to 167% worse for the climate than fossil fuels.

The solar panel industry, largely a creation of Germany and Spain's subsidized feed in tariffs, has collapsed in Europe now that these subsidies have been slashed by governments suddenly on a diet. Solar refugees that wash up on our shores can still cadge handouts from Uncle Sam, but how long will this last as a divided Congress struggles to close a yawning budget gap that can only be papered over with printed dollars for so long?

The wind business has meanwhile woken up to the fact that an entirely new smart grid has to be built to shift the electricity windmills intermittently produce in both place and time. The former requires an army of lawyers to carve rights-of-way through NIMBY neighborhoods while the latter requires scientific inventions that don't exist yet. Yet this hasn't stopped $1.2 billion in stimulus guarantees and other taxpayer subsidies from flowing into an 845-megawatt wind farm in Oregon that corporate sponsors GE and Caithness Energy only had to put up 11% of the money to build. And this is to sell electricity at above market rates that utilities will be mandated to buy. Even the Treasury Department and OMB weighed in to question the sanity of that one.

Speaking of a new electric grid, exactly where are consumers supposed to charge up those electric cars we are predicted to fall in love with real soon now? Say what you want about the electric car movement but it's going to arrive within a year so there will be no escaping evidence of the results. What are proponents going to say when thousands of unsold electric Edsels pile up on dealers' lots as skeptical consumers wait for cost effective products that actually meet their driving needs? Is Uncle Sam going to buy up these lemons and stash them in former cheese caves as it jawbones Government Motors into building more?

Even attempts to prepare tomorrow's workers for the future are turning into an aspirational tragedy. So many community colleges have piled into Cleantech education that they are now producing graduates for whom no jobs exist. I guess the $500M provided by the economic stimulus package for green jobs training can be followed with another $500M for unemployed solar panel installers.
But rest assured insist our politicians, it's the future!

Related: US ethanol exports fuel European unease. And no, those exports are not a good thing, but just a sign of incredible government-subsidized waste.

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