To many skeptics, particularly on the right, the spectacular failure of the solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra in 2011, after receiving a $535 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy, demonstrated the industry’s shaky future and the danger of government efforts to subsidize it to success.
Fast forward to today. Solar energy prices have continued to fall rapidly, twice as many Americans work in the solar industry as in coal mining, and last year one-third of new electricity generation came from solar power.
Solar, long viewed through the lens of crony capitalism, has shown the ability to inject real market competition in energy distribution, one of the last monopolies in the energy sector, while improving the efficiency of the grid and putting more dollars in the pockets of middle-class Americans. Conservatives, in other words, need to take another look at solar.
The case for solar isn’t limited to prices and jobs. Consumers want choice. Unfortunately, in most markets around the country, electricity is still one of the few areas where we have virtually no choice over our supplier. Imagine you want to buy a G.M. car, but you were told you can buy only a Toyota. You’d be outraged — yet this is how almost all Americans are forced to procure their electricity.