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The NY Times' reporting on the California Solar Valley Ranch project and clean energy subsidies is so full of holes that NRG has issued a point-by-point rebuttal. The NYT article is symptomatic of the ugly, protracted decline of mainstream journalism in the US.

Clean Power

The NY Times’ Shoddy, Slanted Reporting of NRG’s California Valley Solar Ranch, Clean Energy Stimulus & Subsidies

The NY Times’ reporting on the California Solar Valley Ranch project and clean energy subsidies is so full of holes that NRG has issued a point-by-point rebuttal. The NYT article is symptomatic of the ugly, protracted decline of mainstream journalism in the US.

Image courtesy of SunPower

The NY Times published an article yesterday entitled “A Gold Rush of Subsidies in Clean Energy Search,” that essentially boiled down to criticizing government subsidies fostering development of clean and renewable energy.

The NY Times‘ reporters singled out NRG Energy’s 250 megawatt (MW) California Valley Solar Ranch project in San Luis Obispo, opining that it was typical of “the banquet of government subsidies available to the owners of a renewable energy plant.” As it turns out, if NRG’s solar power project is indeed typical, then the US public should be in pretty good shape.

I can certainly support the Times and its reporters’ efforts to act as watchdogs of large, poltiically well-connected corporations feeding off the public trough without having any “skin in the game.” There always seems to be, and have been, plenty of that, most of it never covered by the press.

Unfortunately, the NY Times‘ reporters get so much of crucial substance wrong in this article that you have to wonder if political and economic bias rather than incompetence is to blame.

The article is so full of holes that it prompted NRG to issue a claim-by-claim rebuttal.

The NY Times Claims vs. The Actual Facts

I’ll just highlight several of the key falsehoods and misrepresentations included in the NY Times piece that NRG corrects in its rebuttal. Those interested will find hyperlinks to the original NY Times article and NRG press release above.

What the NY Times wrote:

“When construction is complete, NRG is eligible to receive a $430 million check from the Treasury Department — part of a change made in 2009 that allows clean‐energy projects to receive 30 percent of their cost as a cash grant upfront instead of taking other tax breaks gradually over several years.”

The Actual Facts from NRG:

“$380 million will go to repay the DOE loan and the American taxpayer, and only $50 million flows to NRG as the equity investor in the project.”

What the NY Times wrote:

[Lawrence H. Summers warned of] “’double dipping’ [of government incentives]
that was starting to take place. They said investors had little ‘skin in the game.’”

The Actual Facts from NRG:

The Government protected itself against this concern by ensuring that most of the money from the treasury grant received by the project has to be used to pay down the DOE loan. On the CVSR project, almost 90% of the proceeds from the cash grant will go to pay down the DOE loan.

What the NY Times wrote:

“PG&E, and ultimately its electric customers, will pay NRG $150 to $180 a
megawatt‐hour, according to a person familiar with the project, who asked not to be identified because the price information was confidential.”

The Actual Facts from NRG:

“The exact price is confidential, but the number quoted is significantly higher than the actual power price in the CVSR agreement. It is overstated in the article by a significant amount.”

The Ugly, Protracted Decline of Mainstream News Organizations

It may come as a surprise to some how such a highly esteemed and reputable news organization as the NY Times could publish a piece so full of misstatements and errors. Unfortunately, it seems to be more commonplace than is healthy for journalism or society.

Moreover, it’s symptomatic of mainstream media organizations that have largely squandered their credibility, along with billions of dollars and who knows how many decent jobs, to fulfill the dreams of media moguls looking to build global media empires, or at least ensure their survival by “selling out” to corporate interests at the expense of the public interest. One only has to watch any of the “business news” channels to see how transparent all this has become.

Not only that, but these moguls and entrenched managements have been abominable strategic business managers. They may be super-rich, they may be shrewd and intelligent, but astute business managers and capitalists they are not, excepting of course when it came to lining their own pockets and those of greatest use to them. They were largely blindsided by the rise of the Internet and too slow to catch on to the ramifications of digital communications technology on their businesses.

Instead, they were intent on building monopolies, or at least a good chunk of an oligopoly, and took on huge amounts of debt to do so — all with the tacit approval of their shareholders. Now, we look about and see a rubble heap of failed or “walking wounded” news organizations instead of organizations aspiring to live up to the ideal of their functioning as a critical check-and-balance on the abuses of power and wealth and a pillar of a just, open, democratic society.

For more on the media, politics, renewable energy and clean tech reporting, see:

Amory Lovins Nails Renewable Energy Costs, Energy Subsidies, & Myth of Baseload

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Written By

I've been reporting and writing on a wide range of topics at the nexus of economics, technology, ecology/environment and society for some five years now. Whether in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa or the Middle East, issues related to these broad topical areas pose tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges, and define the quality of our lives, as well as our relationship to the natural environment.

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