The Cleantech Crash

  • Date: 07/01/14
  • Lesley Stahl, CBS News

Despite $150 billions invested by the U.S. government in so-called “Cleantech” energy, Washington and Silicon Valley have little to show for it

About a decade ago, the smart people who funded the Internet turned their attention to the energy sector, rallying tech engineers to invent ways to get us off fossil fuels, devise powerful solar panels, clean cars, and futuristic batteries. The idea got a catchy name: “Cleantech.”

Silicon Valley got Washington excited about it. President Bush was an early supporter, but the federal purse strings truly loosened under President Obama. Hoping to create innovation and jobs, he committed north of a $100 billion in loans, grants and tax breaks to Cleantech. But instead of breakthroughs, the sector suffered a string of expensive tax-funded flops. Suddenly Cleantech was a dirty word…

The federal government has allocated a total of $150 billion to Cleantech – through loans, grants and tax breaks with little to show for it. [...]

Under the Obama Stimulus Act, the government wasn’t just supporting research. With Cleantech it was shoveling money to build assembly lines, helping startups in the manufacturing phase. Over half a billion dollars went to a solar-panel company named Solyndra to build a factory. When solar was undercut by low prices in China, Solyndra died.

Another half billion in loan guarantees went to Fisker, a clean car startup that promised to open a plant in Delaware, but went bankrupt. And in other cases production was ramped up before there was any demand – as with LG Chem in Michigan.

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