Fisker [Automotive] probably won’t [change the world], but that doesn’t mean it was a dumb bet all along. An exhaustive Republican investigation found no wrongdoing connected to the Solyndra loan, and there’s no reason to think the Fisker loan was shady either. Like Solyndra, it was once considered a game-changing example of American innovation. Like Solyndra, Fisker raised a billion dollars from private investors. But like Solyndra, Fisker couldn’t cut it in the marketplace. The $100,000 Karma broke down on the Consumer Reports test track. Its display panel is a mess; I couldn’t get the radio to work. Fisker had awful production problems and ultimately sold only about 2,000 Karmas before suspending operations. Its second model, which was supposed to revive a shuttered GM factory in Delaware, was never built. The Energy Department cut Fisker off after it drew down just $192 million of a half-billion-dollar loan.
So it goes. Companies that receive tax breaks and subsidies fail all the time. Ordinary Americans who get tax deductions and subsidies fail too.
Success is not guaranteed in a capitalist economy. The loan program provided a jump start, not a free ride. But Solyndra’s failure has overshadowed a spectacular boom in the -solar industry, which has grown more than tenfold since Obama took office. Fisker’s failure could overshadow similarly impressive growth in plug-in electrics; there were almost none on U.S. roads before 2008, and now there are more than 100,000.
During a presidential debate, Mitt Romney memorably lumped in Tesla Motors with Fisker as an Obama-supported “loser,” but Tesla just had its first profitable quarter and is on track to pay back its federal loan five years early. Its Model S has won the big car-of-the-year awards and received the highest Consumer Reports score of any car since 2007; its reviewers have sounded like teenage boys reviewing porn. So who’s the loser?
The larger point is that overall, as an independent review by Republican Senator John McCain’s finance chairman confirmed, the Energy Department’s $40 billion loan portfolio is performing well. It’s also transforming the energy landscape with America’s largest wind farm, a half-dozen of the world’s largest solar plants, cellulosic biofuel refineries and much more.
Obama didn’t support one company or one technology; he supported all kinds of plausible alternatives to fossil fuels. He didn’t pick winners and losers; he picked the game of cleaner energy.
And we’re winning. The U.S. has doubled its production of renewable power.
Our carbon emissions are at their lowest levels since the early 1990s.
U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions have fallen dramatically in recent years, in large part because the country is making more electricity with natural gas instead of coal.
Energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that is widely believed to contribute to global warming, have fallen 12% between 2005 and 2012 and are at their lowest level since 1994, according to a recent estimate by the Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the U.S. Energy Department.
While other factors, including a sluggish U.S. economy and increasing energy efficiency, have contributed to the decline in carbon emissions from factories, automobiles and power plants, many experts believe the switch from coal to natural gas for electricity generation has been the biggest factor.
And after decades when the U.S. invented products like solar panels and lithium–ion batteries only to see them manufactured and deployed abroad, we’re finally making green stuff at home. For example, not only are we generating twice as much wind power, we’re making twice as many of the components for U.S. wind turbines.