Week in Jenergy: Y’all, Fisker is Nothing like Solyndra, so Quit It

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This week in Jenergy, we’re eagerly awaiting Senate confirmation of Ernest Moniz as the new energy secretary, in part because we love his hair:Unknown

What to know and probably immediately forget about Moniz: He’s an MIT prof, and director of the Energy Initiative there. He served as Undersecretary of the DOE under Clinton, so in addition to understanding how to use hair product to one’s advantage, he knows how policy works. Some liberal groups, particularly anti-fracking groups, are unhappy with the pick because he’s had substantial wads of cash stuffed into his G-string at the Energy Initiative by BP, Shell, and other fossil fuel companies. He also has a significant personal pile of cash for rolling around in that’s been flung at him by energy companies over the years. However, he’s very much the picture of the “all-of-the-above” energy strategy described by the Obama administration, in that he supports natural gas as well as renewable technologies.

Why I’m kind of sort of into Moniz: Yeah, Moniz does wear special underwear made of fracking dollars. I, personally, don’t wear underwear precisely in order to avoid this problem. But perhaps it’s important to look at this in context. Moniz has an academic track record of thinking philosophically through problems of stimulating energy innovation through policy measures, which makes us here at RowlandDeep get the flaming thigh sweats (plus: THAT HAIR!!). Want to read some of his cool ideas? Here’s an abstract of one of his newest papers. If you want to read the whole thing, message me and I’ll let you look at it if you promise not to drool on it. I need it for later.

EPA, you make me SO MAD sometimes: In other news this week, the original timeframe for establishing a new EPA rule on regulating greenhouse gases from existing power plants passed by with nary a greeting card, no new timeline or nothin’.  Not like we should be terribly surprised, but given that the administration is going to have to trade in all its green chips to survive Keystone approval, you’d think they would have done something substantial on this.

Also, if you think it’s possible they won’t approve the Keystone pipeline? 

Seriously, you’re so cute. Dying over here of your cuteness. Moving on:

National Ocean Policy costs nothing, and therefore… sucks?: This week, the White House finalized its National Ocean Policy, which coordinates efforts to share data and combat overfishing, and reconciles conflicts between policies regarding offshore drilling/exploration, recreation, and marine life conservation. Conservatives hate this thing, which makes sense, considering it doesn’t cost any money, but instead reconciles like a hundred conflicting ocean policies and makes ocean regulatory activities more transparent and efficient. On a side note, the National Corn Growers Association thanks the White House for its “outreach” on the plan. Naturally. Wait, what?

Fisker and Solyndra are nothing alike, you jerks: Finally, we’re seeing the fallout from the bankruptcy of car company Fisker. This was a company that wanted to make high-end hybrid electric sports cars, because, let’s face it, the Prius isn’t that sexy, and the Leaf just screams suburbs. They got a loan from the DOE to start up, because they promised innovative battery cell technology and whatnot. Then they went bankrupt in the most hilariously awful fashion possible. They sold about 2000 of their first electric hybrid model, called the Karma, which was, by all lights, super sexy:

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Damn, son. I would ghost-ride that whip to “My Dick” all the way to the farmers’ market. But this thing is like a chocolate-covered grape. You’re all, “Ooo, chocolate!” then you’re like, “WTF, a grape?!” It was plagued by recalls, first on battery cables, and then one of the cooling fans had this thing where it would catch on fire. This whole time, they were embroiled in a lawsuit with carmaker Tesla, who claimed that Fisker stole some proprietary technology. Fisker won that lawsuit, but it was expensive. Then, they fell into some financing snafus. The DOE froze the next stages of their loan because they couldn’t meet the requirements. Then, in a funny-not-so-funny-okay-kind-of-funny moment, SuperStorm Sandy flooded a storage area where Fisker was holding 300 Karmas. To add insult to injury, the cars were not only flooded, the water caused an electrical shortage in one car that caught a bunch of the other cars on fire. Hilarious! Except that the insurance company wouldn’t pay the policy, and they had to sue. So, Fisker is an ex-company, choir invisible, as of this week.

Long story short-ish: So, now, politician-types are pointing at this company as one more example of why the government shouldn’t “pick winners and losers” through its loan programs for green technologies. Instead, say critics, “The Market” should be what determines which technologies win or lose. Fisker is therefore being compared to Solyndra, which was a solar panel company that got a loan guarantee and went belly-up in 2011.

But Fisker is nothing like Solyndra! At all! So shut it! Solyndra had a great product, but was fucked right out of the market by illegal trade practices on the part of China. Whereas Fisker made a shit-ton of mistakes. They used off-the-shelf parts to assemble their cars, which meant they owned none of their own technology, and when those parts failed, they had to take responsibility. They relied on a battery manufacturer, A123, who made faulty battery cells, and when they tried to recoup their losses from A123, that company threw up its hands, went bankrupt, and got bought out by a Chinese company. These were, indeed, Bad Decisions on the part of Fisker.

But, look: under the same loan program, Ford and Tesla both took out billions of dollars in loans, whereas Fisker applied for, but didn’t get all of, a $159 million loan. Fisker didn’t even get all of it because they were sucking so very, very hard. Freezing that loan is just what we would expect alert loan officers at the DOE to do. Tesla’s new hybrid just got MotorTrends Car of the Year–it’s pretty amazing. Ford’s new hybrids are looking pretty baller, also. So these loans aren’t a bad thing in general. Some companies don’t make it. Do we really want to say that the government shouldn’t fund any of these kinds of things just because some don’t make it?

If so, consider that the DOE largely funded oil and natural gas technology development through the last century, and that nuclear energy never would’ve gotten off the ground, nor would it continue to exist, without some government backing of the high risks involved. Keep on funding technology innovation!

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