This whole Solyndra thing looks bad. It’s embarrassing. But let’s keep it in context.
First, the energy department loan guarantees weren’t supposed to be rock-solid investments. If they were likely to be profitable, the private sector could have handled it just fine. The whole point of the loans were to stimulate a green energy sector to both create jobs, clean up our energy consumption, and ensure that the U.S. is relevant in the world green-energy manufacturing market.
Second, the guys who are most angry about how quickly the Solyndra deal went through are the same guys who were complaining about how slowly the stimulus eked out. If you want the stimulus to have an immediate and rapid effect, you have less time for diligent review. This is a trade off.
Third, the whole point of a bet is that you might lose. The smart money is sometimes wrong. If I bet $200 against your $100 that a fairly-flipped coin will come up heads—you should take the bet. You have an expected payout of 150%. Even though it’s a great bet, there’s a 50-50 chance you’ll walk away with nothing. Losing a bet does not mean it was an inherently bad bet. The energy department has guaranteed $35.9 billion in loans. Check them out. One was Solyndra. Another was Tesla. The loss at Solyndra is roughly 1.5% of the total guarantee.
Fourth, Solyndra got creamed in large part by Chinese competition. We subsidized Solynda. China out-subsidized us. On one hand, it’s too bad our solar panel company got creamed. On the other hand … it was awfully nice of China to buy us all those solar panels.
Fifth, of course Solyndra’s people donated a lot of money to the Obama campaign and had a lot of contacts with the energy department. Is it any surprise that people in the green industry business donated to a democrat? And is it any surprise that people seeking a loan guarantee would have contact with the person they’re hoping will guarantee it? There may be a smoking gun showing serious impropriety. Wake me up when you find it.
It’s too bad about Solyndra. And it’s really to bad about those awkward and now-ironic statements about how awesome Solyndra was. But this is not the epic scandal you are looking for.