Solyndra Strikes: Obama Silent on Green Energy

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- When President Obama was given the nickname President Zero by some Republicans in reference to the fact that in August the U.S. economy created no new jobs, it was just more propaganda from opponents. When it comes to green energy, though, the president now does deserve to be called President Zero.

Why? Well, here's the number of times President Obama mentioned green energy during his major jobs speech on Thursday night: zero. That's right, and that's a pretty big change for a president who has made the formula "green energy=jobs" a major component of previous economic stimulus rhetoric and policy.

The reason for Obama's sudden silence on green energy is as simple as one word -- Solyndra. It's the gift that just keeps on giving to opponents of green energy investment from the government.

If you aren't familiar with the Solyndra debacle by now, it's a U.S. solar company that announced its bankruptcy last week. Before its demise, Solyndra was the most high-profile, and notably the first, project funded by the Department of Energy's loan guarantee program, as part of Obama's first economic stimulus initiative. Pictures of Obama touring the Solyndra plant in 2010 and saying it was a model for green energy=jobs are now everywhere in the press. Claims that Solyndra was a pork project of big Obama boosters -- a solar panel to nowhere, which have been around for months -- are now back in the spotlight, with White House logs requisitioned showing the proverbial "nights that Solyndra execs spent sleeping in the Lincoln bedroom" shortly followed by an FBI raid on Solyndra's offices on Thursday. The gift that keeps on giving to opponents of green energy kept on giving on Friday afternoon, when it was revealed that the FBI had extended its raid to the homes of Solyndra's CEO and other top executives.

You can try to make the case that having spoken so much about green energy in past speeches Obama was moving on to new ideas, but plenty else in the speech was boilerplate. So if you heard about Solyndra and have an interest in green energy, and you asked yourself the question, "What is the impact from the Solyndra bankruptcy going to be for the Obama administration?" last night's Obama jobs speech provided an answer. The impact exists, plain for all to see in the fact that a president who had previously always linked green energy to job growth struck any mention of it from a major jobs speech.

It can be said that Obama did make one direct reference to alternative energy, but notably, it didn't invoke solar, wind, geothermal or any energy generation technology. Buried in the middle of the speech was a comment limited to transportation, mentioning fuel-efficient cars and biofuels. It's important to note that advanced vehicle manufacturing has its own Department of Energy loan guarantee program, which has had more bi-partisan support in the past, though it now too has been a focus of attacks from Republicans looking to gut any Department of Energy loan funding. Right after listing fuel-efficient cars and biofuels, Obama mentioned semiconductors as another sector in which America needs to innovate and create. Interestingly, the solar sector is traditionally classified as an off-shoot of semiconductors, but you didn't hear the word solar breathed in the same sentence.

You could strain to find places in the jobs speech when Obama referenced the failure of Solyndra. Obama spoke to the goal of making sure that "manufacturing takes root not in China or Europe, but right here, in the United States of America. If we provide the right incentives and support -- and if we make sure our trading partners play by the rules -- we can be the ones to build everything from fuel-efficient cars to advanced biofuels to semiconductors." Read: Just like Solyndra said in its press release, China was responsible for its bankruptcy.

Here's another: "We now live in a world where technology has made it possible for companies to take their business anywhere. If we want them to start here and stay here and hire here, we have to be able to out-build and out-educate and out-innovate every other country on Earth." Read: This comment is generalized about the corporate sector, but it's also about China kicking our butt in the alternative energy space.

Obama's comment, already a staple of his party, that oil companies should no longer receive tax breaks is another comment that plays great at the Sierra Club Peoria chapter, but isn't specific to the green energy sector. The president also went out of his way to argue for the protection of environmental regulations, which "keep our kids from being exposed to mercury," potentially a signal that he is unwilling to moderate his stance on mercury as he has already done on greenhouse gases and smog rules.

But it's not just about letting the environmental interests know you haven't completely forgotten about them, or about pollution standards as policy tool for requiring a new, or at least modified, energy infrastructure. Given the negative headlines about Solyndra that keep piling up, it would be giving the administration too much of a benefit of the doubt to entertain that idea that green energy didn't make the president's speech on jobs simply because there were fresh ideas to cover this time around. So Obama's silence on green energy raises important questions.

What does the new President Zero Energy imply about energy policy?

Has the Obama administration already done so much in terms of green energy funding that it's simply time to push the money to other players at the table?

Will Obama just be quiet for a while until the Solyndra situation becomes a casualty of the news cycle? (If anything, though, so far it's just getting more play).

Was his command to Congress on Thursday night -- "pass this now" -- a sign that it's no time for any stimulus item that could be a sticking point with Republicans? (Isn't it all a sticking point, though?)

Or, has a fundamental bargaining stance of the Obama administration been weakened in pushing its green energy agenda because any attempt it makes to do so will be met by the dredging up of Solyndra?

Does the lack of improvement in the unemployment rate coupled with the Solyndra bankruptcy mean the Obama administration can't make the claim as loudly as it once did that green energy=jobs, and if so, have they just lost a rhetorical weapon, or will a policy shift be required once the current round of green energy project funding ends?

The Department of Energy has been moving full speed ahead in closing loan guarantees this week, and much has been made of this, "even after" Solyndra's demise. But the clock has been ticking on getting these deals closed regardless, with a Sept. 30 deadline for these loans to move ahead on the books well before Solyndra reared its ugliest head. Given this, it's not as if the fact that the DOE closed loan guarantees this week means it is undeterred. With the negative Solyndra headlines piling up, the Obama administration has even more reason to move to close as soon as possible on any green energy commitments outstanding.

The New York Times editorial page hailed Obama's jobs speech as the work of "an aggressive president at last." The truth though, is that making that determination is a matter of subject specificity. It was a high-energy performance low on talk about green energy. A hallmark of Obama's jobs policy up until now, the president said not one word about solar, wind, geothermal, take your pick, of former stars of the green energy=jobs argument. Count 'em, zero. Because we all know there was only one word that needed to be said, even if it's not in the dictionary. It starts with an "s" and here's a hint, it's not "stimulus."

-- Written by Eric Rosenbaum from New York.

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