Green Energy Politics
The supermarket industry is among the biggest retail users of power in the United States. As such, it’s also among the largest supporters of clean energy. Retailers have installed solar panels, air curtains, LED lighting and a host of other systems in an effort to reduce costs and the impact stores have on the environment.
Unfortunately, recent events have politicized the green power sector. Last autumn, solar panel manufacturer Solyndra went bankrupt, despite $500 million in federal loan guarantees. Subsequent investigations by media outlets found that at least 11 more green energy companies share Solyndra’s fate or are close to it. All told, the companies hold $12.5 billion in U.S. government loans.
Congress is investigating several aspects of the Obama administration’s energy investment policy. During hearings last year, Energy Secretary Steven Chu defended the expenditures as necessary.
“We are in a fierce global race to capture this market,” he testified.
Indeed, Asia has emerged as a major threat to the solar power industry, which has seen prices drop 50% over the past few years. Some observers see the government’s investments as the only way to keep the U.S. green tech sector competitive for now.
“Some of these technologies may not be proven yet, but there’s a clearly understood need to try to change the way we use energy,” said Jeffery Born, a professor in the College of Business Administration at Northeastern University.
Like any emerging industry, green power is high-risk by nature. But stakeholders note that early government support is already helping some segments stabilize.
“Our costs have dropped by more than half,” said Dan Berwick, director of policy and business development for Borrego Solar Systems, San Diego. “The gap that has to be covered by federal or state support is much smaller now.”
What retailers can hope for is that, no matter who’s running the country, continued government investment will yield something of tremendous value.
“The return on that could end up covering all the losses in other areas,” said Born.