We’re a little bit more highbrow here, so we’re certainly not calling the people on our 2014 turkey list “dumb.” Instead, this list recognizes the people, companies and institutions that made decisions or statements over the last year that were widely criticized.
1. 60 Minutes
In January, the television news magazine 60 Minutes aired a segment called “the cleantech crash,” which looked at the numerous troubles venture capitalists faced in the sector.
The starting point of the story was accurate: investors have been burned by large losses in biofuels, solar manufacturing and batteries. However, reporter Lesley Stahl was lambasted for leaving out key facts about industry growth, citing inaccurate statistics about loan guarantees and quoting sources out of context. The story painted a very grim picture for clean energy even as the industry is seeing record-breaking growth.
Vinod Khosla, who was profiled in the story, did not hold back in his criticism after it aired: “The pontificators at 60 Minutes, with their agenda-driven bastardization of news reporting, failed to do the most elementary fact-checking and source qualification, as was the case with your Benghazi reporting.”
The Energy Gang also took a look at the factual inaccuracies and poor framing of the story, which you can listen to below:
2. Marsha Blackburn (and every other critic of loan guarantees)
Three years after the bankruptcy of Solyndra, the results of the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program are in. Only 2 percent of loans have gone sour, and the program is expected to make a $5 billion profit for taxpayers when all loans are paid off.
But that didn’t influence U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who stuck to her factually incorrect talking points even after a progress report was released detailing the strong track record of loan guarantees.
“When you look at what’s happened with solar, some of the battery companies, you see that most of these companies are bankrupt and are no longer in existence, and the taxpayer is left holding the bag,” said Blackburn in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek.
In an op-ed, Jonathan Silver, the former director of the DOE’s loan programs office, responded to Blackburn and others in Congress: “Critics complain that the government is a bad investor, but the track record of the DOE loan program is better than nearly every private sector debt or equity investor in clean energy over the same period.”
3. Hawaii utilities
Hawaii is a living laboratory for distributed generation. With solar overloading circuits in the daytime, Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) is trying to figure out how to much PV the grid can handle.
State regulators are currently working with HECO to develop a plan for integrating more distributed generation, demand response and storage in order to make the grid more responsive. In the meantime, however, HECO has stalled applications for solar systems, causing permits to drop sharply and the solar industry to shed 3,000 workers this year.
HECO has legitimate concerns about the reliability of the grid. However, regulators and political leaders in Hawaii have expressed strong disapproval of the utility’s vision for the grid, saying it “failed to articulate a sustainable business model” for the future.
“There are many pilot projects, studies and plans…[but] no specific corporate strategy designed to ultimately achieve that vision,” wrote the public utility commission.
Ohio-based utility FirstEnergy isn’t hiding its strategy: fight anything other than fossil fuels or nuclear. In a speech this spring, FirstEnergy CEO Tony Alexander detailed the company’s philosophy.
“In the electric utility industry, energy efficiency, renewable power, distributed generation, microgrids, rooftop solar and demand reduction are examples of what ‘sounds good,'” said Alexander. “They are not substitutes for what has worked to sustain a reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible electric system.”
That philosophy has translated into political and legal action. In the last year, FirstEnergy has stepped up to challenge demand response, kill Ohio’s renewable energy and efficiency target, and ask regulators to freeze efficiency programs.
“They have their heads in the sand,” said cleantech investor Jigar Shah, who believes utilities like FirstEnergy may end up with stranded assets as renewables increasingly challenge the economics of their portfolios.
5. Tony Abbott
Since taking office, Australia Prime Minister Tony Abbott has worked to dismantle every policy designed to confront climate change in his country. Alarmed by the government’s actions to kill a carbon tax, water down renewable energy targets and boost subsidies to coal, fellow conservatives have called Abbott’s actions “baffling” and labeled him a “flat-earther.”
“The future for coal is bright, and it is the responsibility [of] government to try to ensure that we are there making it easier for everyone wanting to have a go,” said Abbott recently, explaining his desire to subsidize coal export projects and boost the industry.
According to the International Energy Agency, two-thirds of fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground in order to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Abbott has blamed renewable energy targets and the country’s former carbon tax on high power prices in the country. However, the government has admitted that renewables only make up 5 percent of consumers’ bills and the repealed carbon tax only made up 9 percent — while 51 percent goes to network charges due to an overbuild of electricity infrastructure.
Source: Greentech Media. Reproduced with permission.