Friday, August 19, 2011

Time to change the lyrics. It IS easy being green.

"It's not easy bein' green," intoned Kermit the Frog roughly three decades ago.  How times have changed.  Now it is very easy being green - so easy, in fact, that simple willingness to adorn oneself conspicuously in that blessed color is sufficient to qualify for all manner of government largesse.  Direct grants, tax breaks and incentives, zoning exceptions - not to mention heaping mounds of praise and adulation from press and politicians alike. 

Get that frog a subsidy
Don't get me wrong.  I have no problem with "being green."  I think people ought to recycle.  It's great that industry is figuring out ways to make all manner of things out of materials that biodegrade, and cars that go further on less fuel, and air conditioners, heaters and other appliances that consume less electricity.  I like the concept of alternative energy, and hope (and expect) that one day the relentless march of progress will bring us to a point where non-fossil energy will be produced in sufficient abundance to satisfy our needs.  I'm glad that the days of profligate industrial pollution are well behind us (in this country anyhow), and I recognize the indispensable role government enforcement played in bringing polluters to heel.  I re-hang the my towels in the hotel, turn off the lights when I leave a room, and refrain from printing when an electronic copy will do.  We should be environmentally responsible.  Government policy should encourage that.  That isn't the argument.

What gets me is the fetishization of both the color and the concept.  The way that especially in government the mere label "green" substitutes for and ultimately displaces all reasoned criticism or critical analysis.  If something - a company, a program, a proposal - can reasonably be called "green," that's it.  No outlay of tax dollars can be deemed excessive, no level of waste unacceptable.  Green.  End of story.  Let the money flow (it too is green).

A couple of things triggered this little ventilation.  Of course there's the Evergreen Solar debacle.  The Globe's editorial yesterday, a perfect example of the editors in supplemental Patrick press office mode, was a belly-laugher.   Oh sure, the Globe allows, in its spectacular failure Evergreen is taking "as much as $40 million in state subsidies" down the toilet with it.  But never mind that.  "[T]he underlying goal of investing in renewable energy, and seeking to attract the right companies to make Massachusetts an energy-industry capital, is not only honorable but essential."

"Honorable?"  Really?  Why not noble?  Or even heroic?

I mean, I get it.  The editors like the Patrick/Murray Administration's green agenda, unmitigated failure though it has been.  But honorable?  C'mon.  Belly laugh.

Then there's this bit:

What gave the state’s investment in Evergreen Solar its air of futility wasn’t the folly of developing solar-energy technology in Massachusetts; it was the idea that little Massachusetts, with its handful of millions in economic-development resources, could compete against China by itself.
See?   The problem isn't that Patrick/Murray poured millions upon millions into a single company that never, ever, ever had a market for its products sufficient to give it any hope of surviving on its own.  The problem is that too few millions were, to use government's preferred term, "invested."

Oh, and then this:
[I]t bears repeating that state officials should study Evergreen Solar closely to see if there were any clues that might have exposed its vulnerability sooner.
Clues like, for example, production costs far in excess of profits as far as the eye could see?  Or like the stubborn and intractable fact that technology is nowhere near the point where solar can come close to meeting even a tiny fraction of electric consumption in this country?  The comments underneath the typical online news story ordinarily are a rambling assortment of invective, non sequiturs and appallingly bad spelling and grammar.  Occasionally, though, one finds a gem of condensed wisdom.  Here's one (with apologies to the anonymous poster for the resulting lack of attribution):

You should have had an engineer write this column. Solar panels are not a cost effective source of power. It is a boutique technology, and only those who do not understand it's limitations (interruptable, expensive, not useful for 24x7 base load) think this will ever be a big factor in energy production in the U.S. The only energy sources with sufficient energy density to meet our needs are coal, natural gas, fuel oil, uranium and hydrogen. You want realistic "green" power? Begin the gradual transition to a hydrogen economy (in which, actually, solar can play a role in splitting water for us.) But solar panels were a suckers bet. And I knew this when they started. No Monday morning quarterbacking here.
I am not qualified to asses the assertions about hydrogen, but it sounds cool (and green!).  The rest is pretty much dead on.

The other thing that put me in mind of Kermit's melancholy song is the excellent series of posts by Rob Eno at Red Mass Group, deconstructing the recently-announced "weatherization" numbers.  Read them here, and here, and here, and here.  Rob has uncovered a lot of great stuff, but here's the headline: Massachusetts is spending $125 million in federal "stimulus" (and borrowed) dollars to "create" 400 "weatherization" jobs - at a cost of $312,500 per job.

Which brings me back to the fetishization thing.  I remember a couple of years ago, when the orgy of spending labeled "stimulus" was first rolled out, marveling at the fact that the bureaucrats tasked with justifying the historically unprecedented outlay couldn't come up with anything sexier than "weatherization."  Millions would be spent, we were told unabashedly, to train a vast army of workers to.... hang insulation.  I cannot be the only one who thought at the time, "that just sounds stupid."  But hey.  Hanging insulation is green.  Move along.

And now here we are many months later, $125 million dollars in just this one small state, $312,500 per job "created."  Insulation presumably well hung.  And the Patrick/Murray administration is proud of itself.

As Mike Stopa noted today on Facebook, even the New York Times has come around to the realization that all the "green jobs" talk in recent years has been so much malarkey. 
In the Bay Area as in much of the country, the green economy is not proving to be the job-creation engine that many politicians envisioned. President Obama once pledged to create five million green jobs over 10 years. Gov. Jerry Brown promised 500,000 clean-technology jobs statewide by the end of the decade. But the results so far suggest such numbers are a pipe dream.
You don't say?  Next they'll tell us that lofty aspirations backed by good intentions do not automatically result in economic growth.  Long sigh.  Sad shake of the head.

So anyhoo.  That re-write I promised.  With apologies to the late, great Jim Henson:

It's quite easy being green
All wrapped up in the color of currency
When I think of all the suckers who are red, or yellow, or gold
Or something much less lucrative like that

It's quite easy being green
'Cause it's the color of federal subsidy
And people never pass you over
When they're handing out the lucre
For things like solar panels
Or turbines in the sky

Yes green's the color of P.C.

And green is cool and popular-like
And green gets you in with Obama
Opens up the funds-o-rama
Dollars rain down on me

When green is all I need to be
It could make you wonder why
But why wonder why wonder
I am green, and that'll do fine
Look no closer
Just make that big check out to me.

1 comment:

  1. I need help researching a "GREEN" wind turbine project being pushed through in my town...the clean and green argument trumps the need, in those pushing for the project, to research the "costs" vs the benefits...siting is being done with "grants" though no review of conservation commission, audubon or health impact has even been and where do I get the facts on the "financial" house of cards this project appears to be based on...HELP!


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