Green-Energy Battle Flares Over ‘60 Minutes’ Report

MUENCHEBERG, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 04: A worker installs solar panels containing photovoltaic cells at the new Solarpark Eggersdorf solar park on September 4, 2012 near Muencheberg, Germany. The park, which is being built by German solar energy operator juwi Solar GmbH, will contain 85,000 solar modules and is one of many similar projects in eastern Germany. Germany is investing heavily in renewable energy projects, especially solar, wind and biogas ventures, as the country is in the ongoing process of closing down its nuclear energy plants. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
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Ben Geman
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Ben Geman
Jan. 6, 2014, 3:57 a.m.

A new 60 Minutes story con­cludes there’s little to show for tens of bil­lions of dol­lars in tax­pay­er sup­port for green-tech­no­logy com­pan­ies.

The piece, titled “Cleantech Crash,” is fa­cing furi­ous push­back from green-en­ergy ad­voc­ates, who used so­cial me­dia to at­tack the CBS pro­gram in real time on Sunday.

Re­port­er Les­ley Stahl’s piece cites a “string of ex­pens­ive tax-fun­ded flops” such as the fail­ure of En­ergy De­part­ment-backed com­pan­ies Solyn­dra and Fisker Auto­mot­ive, as well as the struggles of ven­ture cap­it­al­ists.

Asked if clean tech is “dead,” former En­ergy De­part­ment Un­der­sec­ret­ary for Sci­ence Steven Koon­in tells Stahl, “There are parts of it that I would say are on life sup­port right now.”

But he also de­fends the En­ergy De­part­ment’s loan pro­gram for green-en­ergy com­pan­ies, not­ing new tech­no­lo­gies demon­strated.

The 60 Minutes piece isn’t 100 per­cent doom and gloom. It cites the suc­cess of Tesla Mo­tors, the elec­tric-car com­pany that has re­paid its En­ergy De­part­ment loan, and al­lows that “a few” oth­er com­pan­ies show prom­ise.

But the story takes a dim enough view of Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion fund­ing and the state of clean tech­no­logy to prompt strong cri­ti­cism from the in­dustry and its polit­ic­al al­lies.

Ad­voc­ates say loans for green en­ergy pro­jects and oth­er forms of fed­er­al sup­port, in­clud­ing long­stand­ing tax cred­its, are pay­ing off.

Cen­ter for Amer­ic­an Pro­gress cli­mate blog­ger Joe Romm re­spon­ded with a chart-heavy post Sunday night that notes the grow­ing de­ploy­ment and fall­ing costs of sol­ar and wind en­ergy.

The re­port and the re­sponse are the latest thrust and parry over White House back­ing for green-en­ergy pro­jects that have faced heavy GOP cri­ti­cism.

The En­ergy De­part­ment — which Stahl said de­clined to grant her an in­ter­view — hit back on Sunday night. The de­part­ment has for years noted that failed or badly strug­gling com­pan­ies rep­res­ent only a very small por­tion of the over­all green-en­ergy loan port­fo­lio.

“Simply put, 60 Minutes is flat wrong on the facts. The clean-en­ergy eco­nomy in Amer­ica is real, and we are more com­pet­it­ive than ever in this rap­idly ex­pand­ing glob­al in­dustry. This is a race we can, must, and will win,” spokes­man Wil­li­am Gib­bons said in a state­ment.

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