Federal subsidies also created a network of green tech corporations hoping to benefit from taxpayer dollars. One of the players in this network was, again, Al Gore. As Carol Leonnig reported in The Washington Post last week, Gore left public office in 2001 worth less than $2 million. Today his wealth is estimated to be around $100 million.
Leonnig reports that 14 green tech firms that Gore invested in received or directly benefited from more than $2.5 billion in federal loans, grants and tax breaks. Suddenly, green tech looks less like a gleaming beacon of virtue and more like corporate welfare, further enriching already affluent investors.
The federal agencies invested in many winners, but they also invested in some spectacular losers, from Solyndra to the battery maker A123 Systems, which just filed for bankruptcy protection. Private investors can shake off bad investments. But when a political entity like the federal government makes a bad investment, the nasty publicity tarnishes the whole program.
Here is a list of green energy companies that have received federal dollars. Many are bankrupt. Here is another that seems to be on the bankruptcy path.
History demonstrates there are successes when the federal government invests in basic research. It does not do well at making business investments.