A (Non-)Loan Guarantee Non-Scandal with Another Solar Company ($2 Billion Conservative Media Mistake)

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First of all, it’s important for anyone not familiar with the solar industry to know that it has been the fastest-growing industry in the US recently, and with this fast growth comes a lot of change — costs dropping fast, some technologies improving, other technologies being priced out of competition, and so on.

Next, here’s a good quote on this topic from the comments section of a recent post in reply to a slightly confused commenter: “Your confusing risk of the industry as a whole with the risk profile of individual companies. Niche industries attract many small operators, as these industries transition to mainstream most of the individual companies fail leaving a few consolidated efficient operators. The motor vehicle industry is a perfect example, in their early days there were more than a hundred small US car companies with essentially equal shares of the industry. As it grew this fell until the big three represented over 95% of the domestic industry.” [sic] The point being: solar is in those early stages now.

Now, getting on to the story…. Solar haters (the very few that exist) jumped all over news this week of solar company Solar Trust filing for bankruptcy (again, nothing surprising in this fast-growing, fast-changing industry full of companies that won’t last this industry maturation process). In these solar haters’ zealousness, they focused on one thing that is completely untrue (actually, even mainstream media agencies like AP and Reuters messed up on this point) — they stated that the company was again a recipient of a US Department of Energy loan guarantee,… but it wasn’t.

Solar Trust never received a loan guarantee from the DOE.

Here’s more from Politico (a political news site that actually leans conservative):

The misunderstanding underscores the complexities of DOE’s loan guarantee program, the uncertainty of the global solar market and the eagerness of many in the media to discover the next Solyndra.

Right-leaning blogs and websites seized on the news with headlines blaring about $2 billion of taxpayers’ money lost — even if the accompanying story correctly noted that Solar Trust never got a dime.

“One year ago this outfit got $2.1 billion in taxpayer loans,” Rush Limbaugh said on his radio program Tuesday. “So down the tubes. Solyndra was solar panels, and now Solar Trust of America has filed bankruptcy.”

Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) took to Twitter on Tuesday to lament the failure: “This costs us $2.1 bill. Equal to all ‘Big Oil’ tax breaks last yr.”

David Roberts of Grist notes:

Most disturbingly, Guillen notes that Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), who’s on the Energy and Commerce oversight committee, didn’t seem to know that the company was never actually given money.

Surprised? Of course you shouldn’t be. As Joe Romm of Climate Progress follows up: “we expect those folks to get stories wrong — that’s what they do for a living.”

More on that:

When the media latches on to a narrative, mistakes happen. Why? Confirmation bias sets in, so reporters and editors don’t do the same amount of due diligence as they would on a story that strikes their intuition — their nose for news — as incorrect.

The media mistakenly believes unrestricted emissions of greenhouse gases are unlikely to have a catastrophic impact, so they downplay the story and play up the 1 in 20 articles that doesn’t show  the situation is more dire than scientists thought.

And, back to the solar industry, why is this company going under? Because its focus on solar thermal can’t compete with solar PV costs that have fallen off a cliff in the past year or so, at least not as much as was previously thought. (A key reason why Solyndra is now gone.) Of course, you would never know any of this watching FOX News or listening to Rush Limbaugh.

… and I’ll just put this here (h/t David Roberts):

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Image via Solar Trust

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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