Back in 1971, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration (DARPA) was just starting to put money against what would become the Internet.
It was a good use of money. Not just because the Internet would revolutionize the world, but because the development of new technologies, accelerating change, was the best way to fight and destroy the forces of international communism.
Communism couldn't adapt to rapid change, you see. Capitalism could.
Solyndra you've heard of. Beacon Power was another government-backed start-up, this one in the area of energy storage. They had gotten 7% of the industrial power storage market when they went under, taking their government loan guarantees with them.
My larger point is this. Solyndra was a good deal for the government. So was Beacon Power. It was a good investment, even if it went up in smoke. And for the same reason the Internet was a good investment, because its aim was to accelerate change.
The reason I'm going to reveal the plot, and call names today, is because their campaign is showing some evidence of political success. Solar power is slowly become associated in the public mind with government waste, and central control, when in fact the opposite is true.
Whenever I see another burst of right-wing FUD over solar energy, I always look for a news peg. Well, here comes the FUD. Note how Larry Bell puts right-wing bogeyman Paul Krugman in the headline of this screed against solar. Notice how William Tucker does the same.
Why? Because they're not making economic arguments. They're making political arguments. And when you're a good right-wing asshat who wants to make a political argument, you personalize it. You join a lynch mob against the target of the moment. Krugman is the target of the moment.
Oh, the news peg. France, the world's biggest supporter of nuclear energy, may be ready to start phasing it out.
Why should Bell or Tucker (and their enablers) care about this? Because nuclear is the right-wing's hole card against the rise of solar and other forms of renewable energy. Why is that? Because each nuclear power plant requires an enormous expenditure of capital, which must be centrally controlled. And because everything about that plant must be incredibly secure, from its construction to its operation to the delivery of its power and the handling of its waste.
It's all about big vs. little. Big requires central control. Little doesn't. Solar and wind and biomass are little. They threaten the central control conservatives feel is essential to their control over our economy, our politics, our lives.
If this sounds like they're not selling freedom, but its opposite, you're on to the plot. It took massive amounts of central control to beat communism. It took a union between big corporations and big government to do it.
It took, in a word, fascism. And today's big business conservatives, the people behind Bell and Tucker and all their little right-wing asshat friends, those lovers of “wingnut welfare,” are fascists. They want central control because, at heart, they don't really trust anyone but themselves.
But let's get back to cases, shall we? As Rhone Resch notes, the small flow of subsidies to solar since 2006 have resulted in an industry with 100,000 jobs. Few are threatened by the present difficulties. In fact, growth will accelerate. Most are in the channel, selling panels, installing panels, selling power.
Something else has happened. As noted last Friday, a process has begun that will make solar energy the cheap form of energy within five years.
While today, lower costs and lower prices can be destructive to all players, because it's still possible to run natural gas obtained from fracking through a power plant and deliver grid energy for less than the amortized cost of a solar panel on your own roof, that won't be true for much longer. At that point, once the reality of crossover dawns on the marketplace, the supply-demand balance will shift. Demand will start to outstrip supply, power within the industry will shift from the channel to suppliers, and a new era will begin.
That new era has a lot in common with the Internet. What happens when the grid ceases to be primarily a delivery vehicle and becomes a remediation vehicle is that our power system becomes stronger, less susceptible to attack. Just as the Internet is highly redundant, and routes around problems from cable cuts to government censorship, so this new power grid will also be highly redundant. More people will become self-sufficient, true, but so will more communities and neighborhoods. You may not want to make your own power, but chances are someone near you will, and they will gladly sell it to you at a reasonable, market-based price.
That's capitalism at its finest. When there are lots of sellers supplying a big market, not just a few, then capitalism becomes liberation. It's only when choices are limited that it becomes tyranny.
The same forces that destroyed the far left 40 years ago, in other words, are now aimed at the far right. And the far right knows it. They're fighting back.
But capitalism, and science, will win, especially if aided by the forces of democracy. And the best way to assure a thriving democracy is to know what's really going on. As you do, now.