As expected, my column last week about the No More Solyndras Act generated a lot of strongly felt emotions, none more strongly than Chet from Arizona. He dropped me a line saying he was going to cancel his subscription to my magazine as a result of that column. What follows is a lengthy email exchange between me and Chet (reprinted with permission, of course). It’s long, but I’m reprinting in full because I believe it’s a good example of what can happen if we just listen to each other and are willing to discuss things reasonably. The exchange has been lightly edited for clarity.
I expect the reporting to be unbiased, not askew to the left. Obviously, the magazine is unable to do so. I am unsubscribing as a result.
Also Solyndra is still a big deal and very relevant to this election cycles’ process. Championing a dying horse of the current Administration to the tune of more than $400 million is still news. Shame on you if you think squandering more than $400 million is okay.
[Chester] (In the actual exchange, I used the more formal “Mr.” and his last name, but he asked me to protect his identity, and I am honoring that request):
I’m very sorry to hear that you’re leaving us, but I would like to point out that the article you’re objecting to is clearly labelled a commentary, not news — a distinction that means opinions will be expressed. I’m sorry that you don’t agree with the commentary, but there is nothing wrong with expressing an opinion in a commentary as long as it is clearly labelled as such.
I would encourage you, instead of taking your ball and going home, to pen a response to my column. I am certainly open to a response — in fact, I have run two critical responses to my column as the lead items in my e-newsletter in the past.
Squandering, of course, is in the eye of the beholder, and I won’t get into the actual purpose of the DOE Loan program, which was to help companies with new and innovative technology secure private funding. Sometimes companies on the cutting edge fail; that’s the essential essence of capitalism, is it not?
Again, I do hope you’ll reconsider your hasty decision to abandon us and instead work with us to advance the interests of the solar industry together — even when we disagree on some issues.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts and anticipate an excellent response.
If you’ll allow me to make two more points:
The point of the column was the futility of Republican attempts to do anything about Solyndra. It just wastes time and distracts the House from doing the business of the American people, i.e. figuring out a way to lower the unemployment rate, cutting the deficit, lowering tax rates for wealthy Americans (and I do not say that with judgement — it’s a legitimate policy debate, though I don’t agree with its premise), outlawing abortion — whatever your hot button issue is, that’s where the Republicans should be focusing their energy, not tilting at impregnable windmills.
That was the point I was making, but clearly you couldn’t get past the metaphor/allusion I used to make the point because I quoted Macbeth’s famous “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech, which does in fact contain the word “idiot.” But my point still stands — proposing legislation like this is futile and a waste of valuable time while Americans are out there suffering.
The opinions expressed in my commentaries are mine and solely mine. If you read the magazine (and if you haven’t, I would encourage you to do so here) — I think you’ll find it does not skew left or right.
Please don’t confuse me with the magazine. I clearly skew left — but the magazine does not.
As I mentioned earlier, I look forward to continuing this dialogue. I really am interested in hearing the other side. We may never agree, but an open conversation about these issues is critical to helping the industry flourish and prosper for all of us.
Dear Mr. Andorka
I am of the belief that an editor is the masthead of the magazine, so any statement made by the editor is a statement by the magazine. You are the magazine. Like it or not, you are the magazine.
I would like to think more than $400 million and how it is spent is considered the peoples’ business and, as such, it’s in their interest to find out who in the world vetted that company prior to the loan? How many people could have been put to work with that more than $400 Million?
It seems we are trying to force the ability to provide safe and reliable generation into technologies that aren’t quite cost competitive yet, at the expense of those that are and provide high-paying cradle-to-grave careers that are being regulated out of existence when the country is struggling with a recession.
Yes, I acknowledge that we can’t continue to do business as usual, but a game plan with everyone at the table is required. Politics in general has digressed to the point that neither side trusts the other — hence the stalemate and showboating by both parties. In light of the overabundance of cheap natural gas for the near future, renewables and fossil-fired generation will stall and fade until the next crisis occurs. Yes, we are our own worst enemy.
My friends call me Frank, and I would ask that you do so as well.
OK, so I’m the magazine — I can live with that, and I’ll take the heat for being “controversial.” But the opinions on what is most useful to the solar industry are mine. The rest of the articles have no political slant was my point and are written by some of the most talented writers, engineers and others in the industry itself. I can understand if you don’t like my commentaries and no one is demanding that you read them.
I don’t mean that in a smart alecky way — we do label them clearly so that people can skip right over them and move on to the meaty part of the e-newsletter, which usually contains the kind of information you’re looking for. But that’s really not the central issue (and I’m glad you read my columns anyway, despite the fact that you disagree with me most passionately — and I admire and respect passion above all else).
I think we’re getting lost in the weeds of this discussion. Nowhere (and I mean literally nowhere) have I ever argued that Solyndra was a good investment. It was quite obviously a mistake to give them the loan guarantee, although that’s really more visible in hindsight than it was at the time. Solyndra had a business model that depended on silicon prices remaining artificially high, and I’m not sure anyone could have seen how those prices would plummet so rapidly over the past two years. Flawed business model? Clearly. Poor bet by the DOE? Clearly. Should the CEO et al. of the company be held to account, criminally if necessary? Undoubtedly. Criminal or unethical conspiracy on the part of the DOE vetters or the Obama administration? Not hardly.
It’s funny you should bring up the devolution of our politics: I just had that conversation today with someone else for whom I have a great deal of respect here in the office. I have a theory, but I won’t bore you with it right now. Suffice to say it’s been going on for at least four decades, and it’s only gotten worse, never better, I’m sorry to say.
I didn’t think any jobs were cradle-to-grave anymore. I worked 17 years at a company, giving them the most productive years of my life, and was laid off in 2010. Can you give me examples of the types of jobs you’re referencing?
I find your final point interesting as well. I had a fascinating discussion on The American Entrepreneur Radio Show about that very issue. The problem with waiting for crises to happen to make the shift in energy means a lot of pain for a lot of people. So it takes preparation of the ground to make the shift as painless as possible for the entire company. This is, I believe, is where the solar industry is.
Until the technology evolves completely (and it’s getting there much faster than anyone in the industry could possibly have expected — at least from what I’ve heard from industry insiders), it will need some sort of support to allow technological advances to continue. No one is arguing (even me) that the industry should be government-supported forever. That’s not the way capitalism works.
I really do appreciate your input and thoughts. I hope that through this conversation you can see that I’m not entirely crazy; I just happen to have a strong opinion that is the opposite of yours. I would hate to lose you as a reader over this, but if that’s what you feel you need to do, I won’t stand in your way.
Thanks for the great conversation — I hope to hear again from you soon.
Willing to work harder,
I want you to know I re-read your commentary and tried to look at it in as unbiased a look as I could muster, I even followed the links to Macbeth:
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
The cradle-to-grave employment I mentioned is in the utility industry. The work requires some very specific skills. I concur with the majority of what you say, and we can agree the hoo-hah and bravado being employed by both parties is counterproductive to good governance. Capitalism does work if given the freedom for the markets to work. Less government is better government, and that includes taxation.
Now, my fervent hope is the technology matures with all things solar and becomes more scalable to the average homeowner. I live in Mecca as far as potential goes.
Arizona is very suitable to all aspects of solar. Politically, I consider myself a conservative constitutionalist, hedging toward centrist as I am becoming more aware of my ignorance to other viewpoints and opinions. Let’s hope we can mature as a society and embrace a little more of the renewables rather than everyone having to take a bullet when the next change is crisis driven.
When I mentioned scalable to the average homeowner, it should be stated affordable to the average homeowner, the technology should be plug and play where the moderately capable DIY’er can install the majority and then be checked and connected by a professional electrician or utility. It needs to be marketed so a person could go to the local Home Depot, Lowes, Walmart, Ace Hardware and buy a six-pack of volts this payday and plug it in.
I want to thank you for the prompt response and stimulating conversation and making me think.
[End of email exchange]
No, thanks to you, Chet, for engaging me in such a terrific conversation. As my old boss used to say, we don’t have to “agree to disagree,” we can just disagree. But you made me think as well, and for that, I want to say thank you for a civil conversation surrounding solar, and I’m glad we could make time to hear each other.
Lastly, I want to say that after my last exchange with Chet, I heard nothing more from him. I sincerely hope he didn’t leave the Solar Power World family because I truly believe that no matter how sharp our differences on specific policies, we do — all of us — have the best interests of solar at heart. Chet, if you’re still out there, let me know. I loved our conversation and look forward to many more to come.