Nov. 17, 2011: Markey: Solar is the fastest growing energy industry in the world

Statement by Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.)
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing, “The Solyndra Failure: Views from DOE Secretary Chu.”
November 17, 2011

“Today, Americans are focused on the oversized influence of the oil companies and others through the Occupy Wall Street movement. Yet Republicans are pushing their own ‘Pre-occupy’ movement in the hopes that Americans will be too preoccupied with this one loan to a clean energy company that they won’t see the tens of billions in government subsidies given to the oil, coal and nuclear industries, the Republican favorites!  The result? We’re getting a distorted picture of the real market conditions that threaten our economic future.
“Who we should really be talking about are not the bureaucrats at DOE but the bureaucrats in China who have made a strategic decision to drive foreign competitors out of the market. They did it with the rare earth minerals industry in the 1990s, and they’re doing it right now with the solar industry.
“Secretary Chu, many of my colleagues on this committee think renewable energy is the stuff of the Jetsons. They think solar panels are just like flying cars, or life-sized robots that do the housework: maybe someday way in the future.   They’re completely oblivious to the revolution that’s going on.

“Mr. Secretary, last year, globally, 194,000 megawatts of new electrical capacity was installed on the planet. And what percentage of that power came from renewable sources?

“Half of it.  HALF.

“And solar is, by far, the fastest growing energy industry in the world. Over the last five years, global solar installments have increased 1,000 percent to 17,400 megawatts in 2010.
“For every new nuclear plant that went online globally last year, 4 times as much new solar capacity was deployed. In the U.S. there are now 85,000 coal mining jobs, 85,000 employees in the wind industry and 100,000 in the solar industry.
“That’s the story here. Solar has Big Coal and Big Nuclear and the established energy sector scared stiff and they’ve enlisted the Republican Party to do something about it. That’s the real story here.

“Republicans have now essentially eliminated loan guarantees for renewable energy. Of course they’ve left $30 billion for nuclear and coal. They have passed legislation out of the House to cut the solar research budget for next year by 64 percent. Of course, they increased the budgets for nuclear and fossil energy. In the Republican Budget, they’ve promised to cut clean energy investments by 90 percent over the next three years.

“Historically, just as there has been a ‘Moore’s law’ for computer chips, there also has been a ‘Moore’s Law’ for solar. For every doubling of solar deployments worldwide, the price declines by 18 percent. At least that was the case until this year. Through the first 8 months of this year, the price of solar panels has actually fallen 42 percent.

“A 42 percent drop in just 8 months!

“So the irony here is that Republicans attack renewable energy because they claim it’s too expensive. But Solyndra failed because solar is getting so cheap. The price of solar and wind and other clean energy technologies is dropping while coal and oil prices are rising. And Republicans and their fossil fuel friends can’t let clean energy win.

“Why has this happened? So why has there been a 42 percent drop?

“I’ll tell you why.  Our country is in a race right now.  There is a global race to become the leading maker of solar technology.
“We have some fierce competitors in that race.

“Now, last year alone, China gave five solar companies $31 billion in financing assistance. This is on top of free land, extensive tax breaks, and a domestic currency that is substantially undervalued. And now U.S. solar manufacturers are alleging these Chinese state-sponsored solar companies are illegally dumping solar panels into the U.S. market.

“Secretary Chu, would you agree that this massive intervention in the market by China has fundamentally altered the market for solar panels, helped to drive these prices down and made it impossible not only for Solyndra, but for Energy Conversion Devices in Michigan and Evergreen Solar in Massachusetts to survive? And just like during the dot com bubble there are going to be individual companies that fail inside of a larger success story, like solar and renewable.  

“So when new silicon production came online in China and the price of silicon dropped 90 percent, didn’t that mean that Solyndra’s greatest asset—the fact that it didn’t require silicon—now became a huge liability?

“That’s what happened with cell phone prices. The price dropped 90 percent for cell phones after we passed three bills out of this Committee. We don’t mourn the old brick-sized phones anymore. We put the phones that are under 10 cents a minute in our pocket. And that is what is happening in the solar market.”