Sunday, September 25, 2011

Solyndra: Tip Of The Berg

FOR some reason, up until this morning, neither Phage nor Silly had published more than a few inconsequential words about the Solyndra scandal in the US. A week or so ago, the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman argued in his syndicated column, re-published in both papers, that green subsidies “really helped start-ups leverage private capital, but you also get Solyndras.” If the Fairfax target audience was capable of curiosity, this throw-away reference might have incited it. Despite all the many reports on Obama’s politically motivated squandering of $500 million, until that point not a single mention had graced the pages of either Australian broadsheet.

Three days later, Fairfax man in Washington Simon Mann added a little more to the sum of Age’s readers’ knowledge, such as it is. “Having abandoned its push for a carbon price, the Obama administration is under fire in the wake of the collapse of solar panel maker Solyndra, into which it ploughed more than $US500 million.” Again, no mention of the quid pro quo that apparently opened the cash spigot for a generous Democratic Party donor. That is hardly surprising, given that Mann was decrying Republican presidential candidates’ climate-change scepticism, which means “Green power does not rank in their calls for American energy independence.” Fairfax does not have many readers left, but those who remain can rest assured that they will never be confronted by news stories that might provide an incitement to independent thought.

This morning in the Sunday Phage the cause of public enlightenment took a turn for the better, although it was left to an opinion columnist, the IPA’s Chris Berg, to explain the scandal in terms other than evil Republicans’ indifference to the environment. Berg’s article is a good read and a fine summation of everything the Age has failed to report. But his column does not bring readers entirely up to date, there being no reference to Solyndra’s quest to mine additional green dollars from Australian taxpayers.

Unlike the US parent, Patrick Featherston, head of Solyndra’s Australian subsidiary, claimed in a submission to Department of Climate Change not to need “direct cash contribution from the Government”.  Rather, it was “an accelerated depreciation schedule of 5-7 years” that would spur “a large uptake” of rooftop solar systems.

Our PM has few things to celebrate these days, but Solyndra’s sudden collapse in the US may be one of those rarities. If the US company had not gone bust, who can tell how many buyer incentives the Gillard government might have provided to promote a rogue multinational’s technology? It could have been awkward, with Solyndra’s Australian clients attempting to reach the customer service department of a company that no longer exists.

Gillard’s sole consolation would have been her good friends at Fairfax, where the policy, apparently, is to publish opinion on the news pages and hard facts in the op-eds. And where, on the form of the past few weeks many failing years, no mention would have been made of it at all.

UPDATE: Here's a thought. Why doesn't a reporter call a few of the Australian companies installing Solyndra's products and ask where they stand now? Who knows, there might be a story there.


  1. Don't feel left out. American newspapers aren't making much of it either, for some unknown reason [sarcasm].

  2. Another aspect of the corrupt Solyndra deal (as if it weren't sufficiently corrupt) :
    The $500 million plus loan from the US government was immediately subordinated behind and existing $70 million of private debt. The private bond holders would be paid first in the event of liquidation of the company. Journalists should be reviewing that list of private debt holders to see whose buddies have been bailed out of a corporate collapse.