A Bump on the Road to Green

Don’t worry about Fisker’s failures. Overall, clean-energy subsidies are working fine

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The 2012 Fisker Karma.

Fisker automotive may be kaput. But my friend Dave insisted that before I joined the parade of writers comparing the failed electric-car company to Solyndra, the other California-based manufacturer that went bust after landing a federal clean-energy loan, I had to borrow his curvaceous Fisker Karma. It’s been described as the most beautiful sedan ever built, and I must say that Dave’s sparkling ocean-blue model—there’s crushed glass coated with sterling silver in the paint—looks particularly cool. As I cruised through Miami’s South Beach, tourists kept giving me thumbs-up and taking pictures with their phones, which rarely happens when I drive my Honda Odyssey. I aired out the Karma on the highway too. It’s a pretty sweet ride.

So now I’m more qualified to conclude that yes, Fisker has a lot in common with Solyndra. And that’s nothing for the government to be embarrassed about.

President Bush signed the loan program into law in 2005. He let it languish, but President Obama expanded it and started handing out cash to solar manufacturers, wind developers, fuel-efficient-car makers and other clean-tech businesses in 2009. The goal was to commercialize cutting-edge green technologies that could reduce the U.S.’s foreign-oil addiction and carbon emissions while creating jobs in tomorrow’s industries. Everyone knew some loans would go bad. The hope was that some loans would change the world.

(MORE: Too Good for Government)

Fisker probably won’t, but that doesn’t mean it was a dumb bet all along. An exhaustive Republican investigation found no wrongdoing connected to the Solyndra loan, and there’s no reason to think the Fisker loan was shady either. Like Solyndra, it was once considered a game-changing example of American innovation. Like Solyndra, Fisker raised a billion dollars from private investors. But like Solyndra, Fisker couldn’t cut it in the marketplace. The $100,000 Karma broke down on the Consumer Reports test track. Its display panel is a mess; I couldn’t get the radio to work. Fisker had awful production problems and ultimately sold only about 2,000 Karmas before suspending operations. Its second model, which was supposed to revive a shuttered GM factory in Delaware, was never built. The Energy Department cut Fisker off after it drew down just $192 million of a half-billion-dollar loan.

So it goes. companies that receive tax breaks and subsidies fail all the time. Ordinary Americans who get tax deductions and subsidies fail too. Success is not guaranteed in a capitalist economy. The loan program provided a jump start, not a free ride. But Solyndra’s failure has overshadowed a spectacular boom in the solar industry, which has grown more than tenfold since Obama took office. Fisker’s failure could overshadow similarly impressive growth in plug-in electrics; there were almost none on U.S. roads before 2008, and now there are more than 100,000. During a presidential debate, Mitt Romney memorably lumped in Tesla Motors with Fisker as an Obama-supported “loser,” but Tesla just had its first profitable quarter and is on track to pay back its federal loan five years early. Its Model S has won the big Car of the Year awards and received the highest Consumer Reports score of any car since 2007. Its reviewers have sounded like teenage boys reviewing porn. So who’s the loser?

(MORELong Live the Lightbulb)

The larger point is that overall, as an independent review by Republican Senator John McCain’s finance chairman confirmed, the Energy Department’s $40 billion loan portfolio is performing well. It’s also transforming the energy landscape with America’s largest wind farm, a half-dozen of the world’s largest solar plants, cellulosic-biofuel refineries and much more. Obama didn’t support one company or one technology; he supported all kinds of plausible alternatives to fossil fuels. He didn’t pick winners and losers; he picked the game of cleaner energy. And we’re winning. The U.S. has doubled its production of renewable power. Our carbon emissions are at their lowest levels since the early 1990s. And after decades when the U.S. invented products like solar panels and lithium-ion batteries only to see them manufactured and deployed abroad, we’re finally making green stuff at home. For example, not only are we generating twice as much wind power, we’re making twice as many of the components for U.S. wind turbines.

Unfortunately, Dave’s ocean-blue midlife-crisis car probably won’t be one of those things we’ll make. The Karma will become a collector’s item, a 21st century DeLorean, a reminder that even sexy products can stumble in the marketplace. But that’s not a scandal. That’s just a bump on the road to a green future.

MORE(Almost) Everyone Loves Solar


Fossil fuels can be left behind much more rapidly than might be imagined.

Future electric cars and trucks will have unlimited range and need no external recharge.

Revolutionary technologies are en-route that can turn tomorrow's cars into power plants, able to sell electricity when suitably parked. No wires needed. Cars, truck and buses might even pay for themselves.

These are hard to believe breakthroughs, and a wild card has been invented to increase support for the best of them.

An engine that needs no fuel could trigger a perpetual commotion.

See NO FUEL ENGINE at www.aesopinstitute.org

These engines will run cool,. After a prototype is validated by an independent lab, small plastic desktop piston engines are planned that will power a radio and recharge cell phones.

Larger models are expected to power homes 24/7 and replace diesel generators. They also may provide an on-board recharge for electric cars.

And appear to have the potential to cost-effectively replace wind farms.

GaryReber like.author.displayName 1 Like

We should be concerned about clean-energy subsidies, which may be working fine to enrich the ownership class, but they leave the 99 percent propertyless as not owning productive capital assets.

Until we, as a nation, understand that it is the lack of ownership of the means of production that is the basic economic problem for most Americans, we will constantly see an eroding of wages, the destruction of jobs, and increasing demand on the part of the people that the State do more and more for them. For the vast majority of Americans, their only source of income is wages, government welfare support or charity.

The stipulation needed for taxpayer-supported State subsidies should be that the companies demonstrate broaden individual worker ownership via a properly-designed and implemented Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) that benefits ALL the employees of a company. See http://www.cesj.org/homestead/creditvehicles/cha-esop.htm.

MarkGoldes like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I praise Tesla. I hope they lead in providing unlimited range and turning electric cars into power plants in the future. Such cars might pay for themselves one day. See www.aesopinstitute.org


Huge trucks = little penises


As I well remember the snake oil "green revolution" that the government funded in the 1970's, I can't help but smile that we're doing the exact same thing now. Any 12 year old could look up a graph on energy use per person and see what how much all this has gotten us ZERO! That's right. Energy use per person has remained flat for 35 years even though the government has used it's brilliance and my money to reduce energy use. I'll make a prediction, the next 35 years will see no change as well.


@isuzutruckbuyer  So it was YOU! People like you are the reason we have to play catch up NOW!

If we had done the right thing back then and expanded renewable energy we would be off big oil!

Small minded, greedy, short sighted, status quot drones! 

I use 100% wind at this time, so it does work and you are dead wrong !

RRocklin like.author.displayName 1 Like

@isuzutruckbuyer No change is actually progress.  Without energy saving technology energy consumption would have gone up significantly in the past 35 years.  Look at the increasing size of our houses, the increase in car ownership, the increase in the number of appliances, the increase in mobility that has happened in the last 35 years.


The Obama administration LOVES articles such as this!  Talk about ''tortured statistics!"  I would say that Henrik Fisker conned the Energy Department for all that guaranteed loan money, but he didn't have to do much selling...at least not, before he got the loan--a loan to build gas/electric cars.  FYI, Toyota has built almost 2 million such cars, no thanks to the US Government.

Only after his company was exposed for reneging on promises made, did the selling start.  From where the cars would be built, to how many Americans would be put to work in R&D, it was all lies.  There are at LEAST as many lies in Grunwald's piece, here.  Obama's transformation of "the energy landscape with America’s largest wind farm, a half-dozen of the world’s largest solar plants, cellulosic-biofuel refineries and much more," is wildly expensive and even more wildly speculative.

The US Military is required to buy biofuel for some of it's fleet, for hundreds of dollars per gallon!  It's all about "green footprints," or some such nonsense.  The US doesn't exist in a vacuum.  Red China and India, neither of which give a damn about "global warming," are benefiting from all the constraints put on American manufacturers.  As we "invest" trillions of dollars to eke out unmeasurable environmental benefits, the rest of the world is reeling us in, economically speaking.

If solar cells, windmills and the like were viable, it wouldn't take taxpayer dollars to fuel the industries that produce them.  Alas, were it not for US taxpayers, the Solyndras and Fiskers of this world would still have failed...it just would have been on some private investors' dimes.


@Juan'tAjob  Short sighted, ALL big oil and gas is subsidized. AND they don't need it!

Our money should go for the best choice, not the lazy, dirty choice.

1300 "green" business are being invested in from the DOE. 

Most are doing fine, so your just wrong.

China and India will do whatever we do, if we show them proven ways to clean up their act, they will do it also.

It's in everyone's best interest to keep their population healthy and not be a burden.

Rye-catcher. like.author.displayName 1 Like

The world needs more environment-friendly cars.The smoke smells awful and damages our body.There more cars of this kind,our world will be more beautiful!


@Rye-catcher. Holden...from where do you think the electricity comes to power that $100,000 car that was made in Finland?  Fisker, besides being an example of a big con-job on US taxpayers, illustrates the folly of "form over function."  

Electric cars produce just as much smell and smoke as their internal combustion propelled brothers. 

John_Kuhn like.author.displayName 1 Like

@Juan'tAjob @Rye-catcher. Depends.  If the car is plugged into the typical wall socket, sure.  However, with the advent of other technologies, the cars could be charged by renewable sources like wind, solar, or hydroelectric (more easily in the future, true, but possible now).  The draw, of course, would depend on how much the car is driven.  Walking/biking is the way to go if you're close...

Park like.author.displayName 1 Like

In ten years green wil be a thing of the past since it is a "fad", and not a viable program to solve any enviormental problem ???   Get comfortable with oil and gas as they will be around for years or until they can get cars that run on water, which I understand are in the making today !!!!  What fuel do you think is used to produce power when you plug in your electric car or make the fan go around on wind turbins when there is no wind.  Gas and oil is the answer and will be for many years to come.  Drill baby drill and Sarah Palin was right when she said it !!!!!!!  When we look back years from now we will admit, she was a smart inteligent leader and still needs to be listened to when she says something.  And yes, I like to look at trees instead of hundres of windmills covering our mountains and plains !!!  Lets use the oil that God gave us and stop dreaming about "green" energy ????

Weapon like.author.displayName 1 Like

 In 10 years we will already be much more invested in renewable energy and electric cars. To answer your question.

In my state, to generate electricity we use mostly hydro, ng and nuclear. Nobody burns oil for electricity in the US other then washington DC. Oil makes up less then 1% of national grid.

By the way, the ATVM loan was not made to solve environmental problems. It was made to stop reliance on  foreign oil and create jobs in the US. That is it.

The environmental benefits are side benefits, the real benefit is that with electric cars your not tied down to any single power source. So you can use oil, coal, nuclear, hydro, solar, wind or ANYTHING to power them. Not only that, in terms of efficiency, if you took the same oil and used it in a powerplant and ran an EV on it, it would be more efficient then using it in a gasoline car. EVs are not going to replace gasoline cars over night, but in 20 years time, most cars on the road will be EVs.


@Weapon  Nice retort! I agree fully!

Of course we can also see that "Park" is a complete simp because he thinks the brain dead Palin is an intelligent leader!



Honda, Toyota, Ford... all examples of enormous car companies that started building economy cars and worked their ways up into luxury divisions.  I'm disgusted by Tesla, Fisker, etc for taking what amounts to welfare and making themselves rich having solved none of the problems they were supposed to solve.

Were any of the companies serious they'd have put boatloads of economy cars into the streets and our carbon emissions would already be reduced.  Rich people don't commute to work, last I checked.

Weapon like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

@MaFourzerosix Unfortunately the dynamics were a little different back when Honda, Toyota and Ford started. Back then you can sell 1000 cars and be extremely profitable and a best seller. These days 1000 cars is not even considering production. Due to the high costs of batteries today, the only way to produce a long range electric car is starting at the luxury market and work your way down. This is very common with many electronics. Smartphones started as a luxury/business item and then moved down to the mass consumer.

Plus starting at the bottom here in the US for cars is impossible. Tesla for example is the first successful american car company in 50 years. That is saying how complex it is to start a car company these days.

As economies of scale kicks in, prices of electric cars will drop and everyone benefits. It has only been a year since these companies started production, give them at least 5 years to judge. Also, Tesla paid back their loan with interest.

christexan like.author.displayName 1 Like

Programs like this are leading the way to future exponential growth in these industries, these are the faltering babysteps.  Lithium-sulfur batteries are on the horizon (much more efficient use of cheap materials to make, and 4x the power-to-weight ratio of current lithium batteries, without the explosion hazards)... replacing the battery packs (NiMH, LiIon, Lead-Acid) of any current hybrid/electric only car, with a new Lithium Sulfur pack would take these vehicles from niche/part-time use vehicles, to the big time, for ultimately less money than the original packs cost to put in. 

So 5 years from now, the equivalent Fisker/Tesla/Prius-plug-ins, made with other advancements in electrical, engineering, etc, plus the battery advancments from now and in the near future, may go from either 200 mile range, to 800 mile range, or with the same range, will have 4 times more power available, or go to twice the range, with twice the power available... none of that would be possible without the R&D dollars from MANY sources (not just US subsidies)... and it's not far off to see the results.  And at that point, their "environmental impact" of making them (reusing massive amounts of waste sulphur which is a by-product of many manufacturing processes) will be much reduced compared to what's going in them today.


What is enviro friendly about the fiskar anyway? it's a friggin luxury/sports car, using the least efficient drive system possible... nothing green about this thing at all.


(cool lookin car, though, several in my neighborhood. Sad to see they'll be abandoned now)


Subsidies have little chance of working when they are so foolishly awarded.

Fisker was on the road which could be leading to green, only it would be running through coal fields for about 50 years.   That was not understood by many, though the subsidizers might have been more persuaded by the political power of the promoters of this.

Crissa like.author.displayName 1 Like

@JimBullis Even if it were powered by coal, it would put out less emissions than the average automobile, let alone cars in the luxury class.


Massive wind turbines are turning formerly green landscapes into industrial zones. Solar should get the bulk of subsidies, since it can be installed on existing man-made structures without adding to the human footprint (of which carbon is only one component). Current wind subsidies ought to go toward contraception, to reduce future electricity demand.

If we wreck too many iconic landscapes with wind turbines, how will future leisure time be enjoyed? Overzealous "green" electricity that ignores aesthetic values is anti-progress.


@AlecSevins  I don't know where you live but we have some huge wind farms in Texas.

They are in cotton fields, ranches where cattle graze, they haven't hurt anything from what I've seen. 

I think they look cool! I was amazed when we drove up on them!

I could see about 6 in the distance, on a ridge line, in the evening sun it was beautiful!

Your opinion is noted, but your logic is failing.

Crissa like.author.displayName 1 Like

@AlecSevins What about wind requires the landscape to become industrial?  Have you any complaint other than 'I don't like it'?


Until Solar or Wind can provide sufficient energy to mine the materials, smelt the metals, run the entire technology infrastructure used in their manufacture - Wind and Solar are neither green or renewable.   

Face it - If by some means of magic, petroleum energy sources were to turn off tomorrow - Current wind & solar can not provide enough energy to create more wind or solar devices.  All Wind turbines and P-V panels have huge fossil fuel footprints.   Now before the flames start - I do have a Ph. D. in Thermodynamics, and I am NOT a fan of carbon.   Until we have a better way of _storing_ energy, P-V and wind will never be more than novelties.  Too unreliable. "low grade energy".

And note -- For  EVERY  Megawatt (Rated) of P-V or Wind that is installed:  Power companies install A Megawatt of gass turbines("peakers") - Just to account for when the sun is hidden or the wind stops.  So when you are paying for "Green Electricity" you are also paying for the lifetime amortized cost of those  gass or coal plants. 

Don't be so quick to claim "Green is Good" until you follow a physicist and an accountant through the numbers.



@Revenant I still use 100% wind electricity, and you can't compare burning coal with putting in a wind farm as far as pollution.

Add all the numbers you want, one spews CO2 and soot, one does not.

I guess you can figure it out though. Wind is about 10% of the Texas brand new grid.

I'm sure they don't have any PHD's in that industry!


@Revenant But the whole point is to REDUCE fossil fuel use, since fossil fuels are finite and deplete in a peaking bell curve. The root trigger of this recession can be pinned on Peak (crude) Oil, which destabilized financial schemes. Fossil fuels should be conserved like gold and used as long as possible for critical heavy machinery that other sources can't power. People need to stop wasting oil in big cars or with excessive engine idling.

I think wind is a major boondoggle and environment-wrecker, but solar is very practical. Wind power is actually just a subset of solar energy (heat differentials cause wind). So is hydro power, since the sun's heat evaporates the water which rains out, then flows downhill. Solar energy also grew oil and coal by proving their ancient sources. It is entirely logical to focus on solar as the main renewable.


"The loan program provided a jump start, not a free ride."

Jump start? Sheesh! I worked for years for a startup with a MUCH better product that would have been far more beneficial to the environment... and we couldn't even get $1 million, let alone $192 million. Maybe this overall 'portfolio' is performing well, but it seems to be lacking some oversight and that kind of money isn't a jump-start IMO. What the heck did they do with $192 million?

tomdavis2020 like.author.displayName 1 Like


In March 2011, for example, the GAO examined the first 18 loans that were approved and found that none were properly documented. It also noted that officials “did not always record the results of analysis” of these applications. A loan program for electric cars, for example, “lacks performance measures.” No notes were kept during the review process, so it is difficult to determine how loan decisions were made. The GAO further declared that the Department of Energy “had treated applicants inconsistently in the application review process, favoring some applicants and disadvantaging others.” The Department of Energy’s inspector general, Gregory Friedman, who was not a political appointee, chastised the alternative-energy loan and grant programs for their absence of “sufficient transparency and accountability.” He has testified that contracts have been steered to “friends and family.”

allison.aa like.author.displayName 1 Like

"An exhaustive Republican investigation found no wrongdoing connected to the Solyndra loan" -- other than the tossing of $500 million of taxpayer money into a rat-hole. The simple fact is that alternative energy, despite enormous taxpayer subsidies, is simply not yet cost-effective (hence the recent about face in Europe). Hasn't the government conclusively demonstrated, at our expense, its utter incompetence as a venture capitalist, i.e. creating viable businesses.


@allison.aa  No about face in Europe! Germany's people were upset at their electric rate, that's all.

They are still on track for their goals.

They screwed themselves, they should have phased out their Nuclear, slowly, instead of all at once.

Their bad, not the tech.

Crissa like.author.displayName 1 Like

@allison.aa Are you saying that no loans ever should have risk?  Also, your comment 'not cost-effective' isn't backed up by... Anything.


@Crissa @allison.aa All loans have risk, and the interest rate (except in the case of government loans of taxpayer funds such as renewable energy and student loans) reflects that risk. Venture capital is a different proposition, and a little research will show just how the taxpayer got hosed by the governments Telsa venture. And let's not get into Government Motors!

My comment about cost-effectiveness is backed up by mountains of public information, one example of which I included. For other examples, Google electricity rates in Germany, Siemens write-off of a $1B invetstment in Solar, etc., etc. See also electic vehicles, which are actually less carbon-efficient that gas-power (since you are too busy flailing to do your own research, look here http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324128504578346913994914472.html and here http://www.slate.com/articles/business/project_syndicate/2013/04/electric_cars_they_re_expensive_inconvenient_and_not_even_good_for_the_environment.2.html before jerking your knee), cost twice as much, and thus can only be sold with a $7,500 gift from the taxpayer. Ditto for wind and solar; once again, a little research whould show you that, in addition to the tax credits for installing them, power companies (and hence their ratepayers) are reduired to pay above market rates for the electricity they produce. The relative costs of producing electicity are also readily available online. Might I gently suggest that you take the time to answer your own questions before demonstrating your ignorance.



Tesla paid back their loan early, your a fool.

As far as where we put our tax money we need to choose the cleaner choice.

We subsidize big oil, gas and agriculture, they "hose" us everyday and have for the last 60 years! I don't hear your whining about it though?

Just things that Obama supported, huh?

I think we can all see you REAL reasoning!

rcevett like.author.displayName 1 Like

Obama is just as bad as the GOP in trying to use trickle down corporate welfare to solve problems.  The Tesla is yet another example of our tax money providing squat in terms of CO2 reduction.  An honest look at the overall carbon dioxide data for the Tesla, nationwide and year-round, tells a very pessimistic tale. Consumer Reports tells us that the Tesla gets a year-round average 200 miles per 85 kilowatt hour fill-up, and the US Energy Information Administration tells us that the electric system produces a nationwide average of 600 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour. The Tesla therefore produces 255 grams per mile of CO2. That makes this car the CO2 equivalent of a gasoline-powered car that gets 35 miles per gallon. That’s an ineffectual improvement over our better conventional gasoline cars, and not nearly as good as existing hybrid technology If the Tesla intended to change the game on CO2, it failed. There is no justification for government subsidies of so lackluster a performer. 


@rcevett  Silly person, the Tesla emits NO CO2.

If you are implying that a coal plant is charging it up, yes it comes out about the same.

But that's changing, we now have as much Nat Gas plants creating electricity as coal plants, and we have solar, wind and hydro producing close to 15% nationally.

So your premise is based on old data and thoughts. 

And Tesla paid their loan back already so you really have nothing to say.


@TroyOwen @rcevett Hope for "newer" data to look better than the current data you're trying to declare "old" if you wish. We're going to have 430 Million people in this country by about 2050. All those people are going to want to do all the things we now do with electricity. Add the burden of trying to run all our cars on electricity, coupled with irrational fear of nuclear, and it's hard to see the total CO2 generated by the electric system going anywhere but dramatically up. In short, subsidizing automobile travel, conventional or electric, is subsidizing consumption. No wonder we're getting nowhere.

When the gov subsidizes a loan, the company gets the loan at a lower interest rate. That's dollars back in the pockets of the company, courtesy of the taxpayers. If they paid the taxpayers back as well as the creditors, THEN we'd be even. That, of course, ain't gonna happen.


@rcevett Of course our population will grow, the more we need to address these CO2 problems NOW!

We are building a new Nuclear plant in Atlanta.

We subsidize big oil, and gas why not clean fuels as well?

Actually, a subsidy is a measure that keeps prices for consumers below market levels, or keeps prices for producers above market levels or that reduces costs for both producers and consumers by giving direct or indirect support. 

Not really a "loan" at all.


@rcevett while i'd agree, you have to admit there is more ways than one to make electricity, whether it comes from solar panels, dams, wind turbines, nuclear power, or coal it has the potential to be much more efficient when the opportunity arises, it is unfortunate that the government doesnt attempt to create efficient technologies themselves rather than rely on corporations for it is possible, for example the vast majority of the energy output of the sun goes unused, that is not to say it is possible but it is certainly not impossible.

rcevett like.author.displayName 1 Like

@BillySoennichsen @rcevett (I don't much get involved in these comments; I put the numbers together for a letter to the editor, and this forum looked like it could use them. But the thoughtful reply of BillySoennichsen inspires me to comment one last time.)

You can put me down as an old guy who has been served well for a long time by not counting unhatched chickens. My crystal ball is no better than anybody else's, but I'll suggest not betting on much change in CO2/kW-hr between now and when these Teslas start hitting the landfills. The situation is not helped by the current attitudes about nuclear, or by the fierce opposition to both hydro and wind by "environmentalists" in New England.  (I hope some will notice I'm mentioning three technologies that are producing energy today, not which might be viable in the future.)

I am a staunch opponent of Corporate Welfare. I believe I qualify as "staunch" because my opposition runs from Solyndra to Ethanol to Big Oil to Sugar.

JOON like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

In any case, the green energy like sustainable energy must be developed in a short period as soon as possible. I expect that the day of using sustainable energy in home will be coming.