Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Darryl Siry on DOE

Darryl Siry's latest article is mandatory reading for anyone following the manner in which stimulus funding and in particular, Department of Energy funding is being allocated to private companies as of late. He makes the simple point that when the federal government begins injecting funds into particular markets (such as with the pot of gold Fisker/Tesla have drawn funds), it has the counter effect of reducing private investment in that space since the competitors chosen by the government obtain such an enormous advantage over all others.

This is a very relevant point that has wider application to discussions across all of the current stimulus funding that's being handed out these days. It's the sort of point that should give everyone involved pause and hopefully consider whether or not picking individual companies is really the best way to stimulate the economy and even usher in newer modes of energy use that many who read this blog so strongly desire.

Personally, I advocate tax credits that reward technological advances. Instead of Cash for Clunkers or Cash for Caulkers, make the credits reward innovation and technological success: Cash for Batteries Whose Energy Density Is 52kWh has a nice ring to it. Cash for Solar Panels that cost less than ____per kW. Cash for Wind Turbines that cost less than _____ per kW. Etc Etc. Cash for States that Resolve Distribution Line Right of Way Issues Before X July 2010, etc etc.

It's a simple tweak but what it does is cause more private investment, more competition and thus more jobs. Just handing out funds to a few companies who hire lobbyists and former government office holders (Al Gore) to promote a particular company to their former colleagues (Cathy Zoi) is not the best way forward if the goal is to stimulate the economy and create jobs. In fact, as Siry points out succinctly, it's probably counterproductive.

So, that brings us back to a question I've been asking (all alone apparently) and that is, how is it exactly that the Department of Energy is going about selecting the promising companies/technologies in which to invest? How many who have received stimulus funds have also hired lobbyists?