Taxpayers Still Screwed on Clean Energy Loan Program

A Dubious Clean Energy Investment

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted November 14, 2014

cleanenergyprogramThe headline screamed …

“Clean Energy Loan Program Turns Profit for Taxpayers!”

Supporters of the DOE's clean energy loan guarantee program have been doing back flips since it was announced that the government netted $30 million in loan guarantee interest payments.

Certainly this isn't surprising. After all, following the Solyndra debacle, President Obama and the DOE took a lot of heat over this program which was designed to put clean energy on a level playing field with fossil fuels.

The whole Solyndra mess did make for great political theater, though. And it also reinforced the stubborn fact that there is no real free market when it comes to energy. There never has been. And to suggest otherwise would be foolish.

The truth is, our energy and transportation fuel infrastructure was built on the backs of taxpayers. And even today, generous subsidies still pour in for peddlers of fossil fuels. In fact, a recent report from the International Energy Agency found that across the globe, fossil fuels are pulling in $550 billion a year in subsidies. That's four times the $120 billion that's been forked over for alternative energy.

Of course, as a Libertarian treehugger and free market thinker I find any form of energy subsidy – whether for fossil fuels or alternatives – to be a bad idea, as these things don't allow for the market to work properly. These subsidies facilitate the misallocation of resources and manipulate the fundamentals of supply and demand that, in the absence of government intervention, should dictate winners and losers.

That being said, this hasn't stopped the DOE from pumping out the positive PR. Unfortunately, press releases don't always tell the full story.

Where's my check?

The first question we must ask is this …

If taxpayers have truly profited, should we expect a distribution payment sometime soon? I wouldn't count on it.

Although many will claim that the taxpayers have come out ahead on this investment, it simply isn't true. Not only will none of us receive a check in the mail, but this was never really an investment to begin with. If it were an investment, it would've been voluntary. Instead, money was “taken” from us, then funneled into this program. That's not an investment. That's robbery.

Yes, it looks as if the ROI on the loan program has worked out pretty well for the DOE. But that doesn't change the fact that you and I never had a say in this. Just as none of us have a say in the billions of tax dollars the government uses to support oil, gas, coal, and nuclear.

End it all!

For decades, the conventional energy economy has relied on steady welfare from the government so as to create the illusion that fossil fuels and nuclear are cheap. But these things are only cheap when they're subsidized with your hard-earned cash.

As I've stated many times in the past, if we were to end all subsidies – both direct and indirect – for all forms of energy, things like solar, wind and electric cars wouldn't even need a special loan guarantee program. This stuff would compete quite well today against fossil fuels and nuclear, and even more so by the end of the decade.

So while I'm happy to know that not all of the government's alternative energy picks were losers like Solyndra, I'd be a hell of a lot happier if the powers that be would stop trying to create a level playing field by introducing more government intervention.

If the government truly wanted a level playing field, it would stop trying to placate renewable energy supporters with special tax breaks and stop providing billion-dollar welfare checks for fossil fuel producers and nuclear power zealots.

If the government truly wanted a level playing field, it would just stay out of it altogether.