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L.A. Community College solar & wind project loses the future

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One of President Obama's silliest lines is that we need to "invest" (read: "subsidize") in "the energy of the future" (read: "energy sources that are prohibitively expensive and extremely inefficient") so that China doesn't beat us to the "clean-energy future." This is silly because, as of now, this "clean-energy future" is just a future of more government subsidies for politically connected companies that produce products that don't create value.

Here's an instructive story from the Left Coast, where solar dreams run wild, Larry Eisenberg wanted to take the Los Angeles Community College District off the grid, powering it instead with subsidized solar panels, geothermal installations, and wind power. Eisenberg failed, and not because of some misstep along the way, but because his whole plan was wrong-headed.

The L.A. Times writers nail it here:

As head of a $5.7-billion, taxpayer-funded program to rebuild the college campuses, Eisenberg commanded attention. But his plan for energy independence was seriously flawed.

He overestimated how much power the colleges could generate. He underestimated the cost. And he poured millions of dollars into designs for projects that proved so impractical or unpopular they were never built.

These and other blunders cost nearly $10 million that could have paid for new classrooms, laboratories and other college facilities, a Times investigation found.

The problems with Eisenberg's energy vision were fundamental. For starters, there simply wasn't room on the campuses for all the generating equipment required to become self-sufficient. Some of the colleges wouldn't come close to that goal even if solar panels, wind turbines and other devices were wedged into every available space.

Going off the grid did not make economic sense either. Given the cost of alternative energy technology, it would be more expensive for the district to generate all its own electricity than to continue paying utilities for power.

My colleague David Freddoso and I have written about the telling example of Solyndra (Freddoso here, and me here), which used its well-connected lobbyists to get half a billion in government aid before cancelling its IPO, cancelling its planned expansion, and laying off workers.

I've also written about the cellulosic ethanol plant in Georgia that got your money through USDA subsidies, Energy Department subsidies and also got state subsidies from Georgia.