HuffPo Blames Media for Failure of All New Solyndras


Solar Trust trying to communicate with extraterrestrials.

At the Huffington Post, Jason Linkins focuses like a laserbeam on the really important story: That too many reporters use the term "Next Solyndra" to describe the growing number of companies that have gone out of business after taking taxpayer money through the Federal Financing Bank

Way back in September, Politico reported that LightSquared was the next Solyndra. (Their story showed up in my RSS feed with the headline, "LightSquared: The next Solyndra?") In January, they wrote a story about Ener1, an Indiana company that manufactures lithium-ion batteries, giving it the headline they'd essentially recycle for Abound Solar, "Another Solyndra? Grant recipient Ener1 in bankruptcy proceedings." In April, Politico's "Morning Energy" newsletter hyped a National Review story from Robert Bryce titled "The Next 'Next Solyndra,'" which fingered electric car battery maker A123 Systems as … well, you get the idea…

It's just an example of the nagging tendency of the media to fall back on "this thing looks like that thing" tropes, thus losing the details of the story in the blinding light of all the shiny-shiny…

But what sets Politico apart is that they know better. All they have to do is read their own publication — specifically, Alex Guillen's April 4 piece, "A $2 billion solar mistake — from the media."

In his article, Guillen describes how lots of media organizations bought the hype that Solar Trust, an Oakland-based company that was planning to build a large solar farm in Blythe, Calif., had cost taxpayers $2.1 billion in DOE-guaranteed loans after it filed for bankruptcy. The problem is that Solar Trust had never taken the loan — they'd actually backed out of the deal in August.

So the problem isn't the massive cost to the public treasury of central planning experiments that predictably failed. Nor is it that so many green companies buzzing around the nest of government handouts keep failing. (Note that the National Review story Linkins cites wittily uses a double-"Next" to allude to the great number of bum taxpayer investments that have been made.) Rather the problem is that media shorthand has made room for a new term that is maybe irritating in the way the old habit of adding the suffix -gate to political scandals was irritating.

Ron Bailey correctly noted the details of the Solar Trust failure in April.

Last October I posited that the challenge in finding the Next Solyndra was not, as Linkins claims, a shortage of claimants but an oversupply of them:  

The competition for the title "Second Solyndra" has become somewhat like the search for the New Dylan in the seventies. The New York Times nominates San Jose-based SoloPower, which got a cool $197 million from the Energy Department. Previous contenders have included SunPower and the Solar Power Project (which came in for its own $737 million DOE loan shortly after Solyndra went south). You'll also be relieved to know your tax money is helping to build low-emissions sports cars in Finland. And in a rare moment of efficient stimulus, a Tennessee electric truck terminal has managed to go bankrupt with only $400,000 in federal green stimulus. At that rate, profits must be right around the corner. 

I am also on record believing the Massachusetts-based Beacon Power won the competition to become the next Solyndra last year. Ener1 or some other company may have taken a bronze medal. Now we're well into the mid-pack of runners in the Solyndra race. 

Linkins blames the Chinese for these failures. (Those crafty devils have struck again by offering a product that does the job as well or better at a lower cost — an Ancient Chinese Secret that no American entrepreneur could have foreseen or been expected to plan for.)

But Linkins won't get a break from the "Next Solyndra" label until Next Solyndras stop appearing. I advise patience along that line, because it's going to be a long time before we see the last Solyndra