If you believe that the federal government's massive green energy subsidies have burned through taxpayer dollars and gotten us nothing in return, you are wrong. It has gotten us a trade war.
China announced Friday that it would open anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigations into the United States and South Korea. The probes are direct responses to two import duties that the Obama administration slapped on Chinese solar panels, adding 35 percent to the cost of Chinese solar exports to the U.S.
In an act of considerable chutzpah, the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing, or CASM, which had lobbied hard for the U.S. to lay these punitive tax rates on Chinese solar panels, blasted China's announcement as "an abuse of international trade rules."
This whole back and forth started because China is underselling the U.S. in the manufacture of solar panels, allegedly by manipulating its currency. That sounds bad until you realize that the low-cost Chinese panels are the reason that solar power has finally become affordable (with subsidies) for many in the United States. Thanks to cheap Chinese panels, along with federal tax credits and local subsidies, solar installation has moved forward at a breakneck pace across the country. One would think that a presidential administration so keen on green power would be happy.
But that meant U.S. solar manufacturers (like Solyndra) were losing out. The White House wants American manufacturers to dominate the industry. So when those manufacturers complained about the competition, they got their way. Now China, which had been a major buyer of raw materials used in solar panels, is imposing its own duties. The end effect is to make solar power far more expensive in the U.S.
But we are at least saving the solar industry from China, right? In fact, no. Most of the companies involved in solar power here work either in raw materials or installation. For these, low-cost Chinese panels were a boon. That is why the main trade group, the Solar Energy Industries Association, did not back the tariff push, and CASM broke away from them.
This comes in the same week that the latest taxpayer-backed solar company, Amonix, went belly-up. That cost taxpayers a mere $22 million in grants and tax credits -- a relative bargain compared to losses at Solyndra ($528 million), Abound Solar ($70 million) and Beacon Power ($43 million).
President Obama's vision of a future filled with millions of green jobs was always unrealistic. He promised his $150 billion in renewable energy "investments" would bring us 5 million new jobs over ten years. Yet the Department of Energy's flagship solar program, with $16 billion in loan guarantees outstanding, has created fewer than 2,500 permanent jobs so far. And the wind industry has actually lost jobs, even as wind power has nearly doubled in capacity.
We are not keen to see so much money spent on green energy subsidies in the first place. But unless Obama wants all of that money to go to waste, it's time for him to give up the pipe dream that he can create millions of "green jobs" from behind the protection of these solar tariffs. If he really wants green power so badly, Obama should rescind the tariffs and let consumers, not the government, decide where they will buy their solar panels.