Washington Post Recounts History of Federal "Investments" in Energy Production Technologies

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Burning cash would produce more energy

The Sunday Washington Post has a nice commentary piece, "Before Solyndra, a long history of failed government energy projects," detailing the Federal government's dismal record of wasting billions on allegedly innovative energy production projects for the past 50 years. It begins: 

Solyndra, the solar-panel maker that received more than half a billion dollars in federal loans from the Obama administration only to go bankrupt this fall, isn't the first dud for U.S. government officials trying to play venture capitalist in the energy industry.

The Clinch River Breeder Reactor. The Synthetic Fuels Corporation. The hydrogen car. Clean coal. These are but a few examples spanning several decades — a graveyard of costly and failed projects.

Not a single one of these much-ballyhooed initiatives is producing or saving a drop or a watt or a whiff of energy, but they have managed to burn through far more more taxpayer money than the ill-fated Solyndra. An Energy Department report in 2008 estimated that the federal government had spent $172 billion since 1961 on basic research and the development of advanced energy technologies.

All true. I immodestly point out that I covered this ground and more back in my 2009 Reason article, "It's Alive: Alternative energy subsidies make their biggest comeback since Jimmy Carter." 

The Post article ends:

Perhaps the federal government is, as former Obama economic adviser Lawrence Summers put it, "a crappy VC," or venture capitalist. Or perhaps it should stick to funding basic research. But if more recipients of Energy Department loan guarantees falter, they will become part of a long, if undistinguished, history of failure.

Perhaps? Fifty years of evidence is in; there's no "perhaps" to it. Whole depressing Post article can be found here

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  1. I taught my Chinese conversation partner the English word “incentive” yesterday, and used government failures to illustrate its meanings and implications. He got very excited about the explanatory power of this worldview.

    He’s from Southern China, which is generally more anti-Communist-party, and speaks Cantonese in addition to Mandarin, which is used as a language of dissent, apparently. So, he was already on board, he just doesn’t know the English vocabulary around anti-governmentalism.

  2. It used to be liberals would say after their failures “we just didn’t put the right people in charge”. Now they don’t even do that. It is instead “just give the same people another chance”. Is anyone at the Post or the Times, which also ran a very critical story about this, calling for Steven Chu’s resignation? Nope. Being liberal means always getting another chance.

  3. But, but, but it’s all about intentions!

    The people in government who made these decisions never intended for that money to go to waste. No! They intended for it to produce goods that greedy capitalists were unwilling to invest in because they wouldn’t make enough profits.
    Obviously the reason these federal investment schemes failed was because not enough money was spent, or not enough regulations were written to cripple the competition, or not enough laws were passed, or something.
    Because intentions are all that matters.

    1. I comprehend your handle, but there should be an expiration date on the use of sarcasm in blog commentary. It gets quite stale and uninteresting after a short while. Wouldn’t you agree? Nothing personal.

      1. I already find you stale, and uninteresting, and you’ve been around for what, three posts?

        1. I wasn’t addressing you. Did I hit a nerve? Do you need a hug?

        2. Anyway, sarcasm is the lowest form of wit. Also acceptable: punning.

          Don’t hate me because I’m truthful.
          ?

          1. He hates you because you’re insipid and boring. Sorry.

      2. Sarcasm is like Jell-o.

        (the older folks will get the reference)

      3. Sarcasm is like Jell-o.

        (the older folks will get the reference)

      4. Interestingly, my comments begin with my chosen handle. I don’t know if you noticed that or not.

        So that means you can read the handle first, then decide whether or not to read the post.

        For example if you don’t like my sarcasm, you can read sarcasmic and skip the post.

        I hope that helps.

  4. Are you trying totell me that government isn’t good at picking winners and losers? Next you’ll try to say a small committee can’t possibly approximate the myriad economic decisions that millions of people make everyday.

  5. My family moved to Tennessee to work on Clinch River and my father had been involved in the design of the thing. It was only a failure in the sense that after 3 Mile Island congress set out to delay and delay the thing and eventually canceled it. All of the components had already been built and it probably cost as much shutting the project down as it would have completing it.

    I was told that many of the components went to Japan for use in their first Breeder Reactor.

    We had the technology to have a much more efficient and safer nuclear industry but politics intervened.

  6. Has anyone ever done any work analyzing the “workforce impact” projects like this have?

    Because I’m starting to encounter lefties who say, “Well, this project may have failed, but these companies employed scientists and engineers in the alternative energy field, and just subsidizing that workforce is good, because a certain number of those guys will go on to work for profitable companies.” Sort of a leftie’s version of a theory of creative destruction.

    Is it possible that there’s anything to it? Does government investment in the sciences throw off benefits even when it fails, by drawing workers into the sciences and into engineering who otherwise would not have seen viable career paths there?

    Or (as I tend to suspect) are we still losing out even in the workforce area because people who expertise and the calling for science and engineering are pissing their time away on these projects when they could be working on more productive projects?

    1. It is called opportunity cost Fluffy. And it is worse than that. Not only are these guys wasting their time on unproductive green projects but also they are wasting their careers on green energy when they could be spending it on more productive matters.

      1. Right, but that’s assuming that their alternate career paths would be productive.

        What if they became Womyn’s Studies majors or something instead?

        Opportunity cost analyses are always a little iffy to me because they tend to assume that the subject would automatically choose the highest and best use of their time or resources in the absence of market distortion. I don’t know if I’m always comfortable thinking that’s true.

        I’m just trying to see if it’s possible to squeeze the blood of sense out of this particular lefty stone.

        1. If they got into engineering doing solar stuff, I think it is unlikely that they would have become woman’s studies majors But I would imagine all of the green propeganda that goes on in the education system causes a lot of bright engineers to pursue this kind of windmill tilting nonsense rather than more productive things. Hard to imagine the combination of endless government money and decades of green propeganda wouldn’t do that.

          1. I once made the mistake of dating some chick who had majored in women’s studies.
            She had to be the most useless tool in the box.
            However the fact that her parents sent her money each money to help her with her rent (she was a college grad in her late 20s, what a fucking loser) did allow me to not pay my fair share of the bills as I pursued my Computer Science degree, and then ditch the bitch when I got close to graduation.
            I’m such a dick.

        2. Opportunity cost analyses are always a little iffy to me because they tend to assume that the subject would automatically choose the highest and best use of their time or resources in the absence of market distortion. I don’t know if I’m always comfortable thinking that’s true.

          Its a tautology. Whatever they choose to use their time on is the highest and best use of their time.

          It cant be judged externally.

  7. Amusingly, today the very same paper is headlining that “economists” believe regulation does not cost jobs. The cluelessness evident in the article is pretty funny.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/…..ml?hpid=z2

  8. Amusingly, today the very same paper is headlining that “economists” believe regulation does not cost jobs. The cluelessness evident in the article is pretty funny.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/…..ml?hpid=z2

    1. @$&$! iPad!

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