Remember Tesla, the clean energy automobile company that the Department of Energy gambled on with big investments in 2009? Mitt Romney declared it a "failure" during the presidential campaign and critics compared it to another company with a space-age sounding name: Solyndra, a solar energy company that defaulted on its half-billion-dollar government loan.
Not every clean energy outfit is a Solyndra.
Tesla has announced it will pay off its $465 million federal loan nine years early, and stock in the Fremont-based company is soaring. It is up 13 percent, fueled by positive reports that the renewable energy auto's sales are rising in Europe and China. That's fine, but what about here in the States? Shouldn't a half-billion-dollar government outlay pay dividends here?
It should and it is. Tesla just announced that it will triple its number of supercharger stations in the next month, and by the end of the year drivers of the completely electric, emissions-free car will be able to drive from New York to Los Angeles. By the end of 2014, Tesla plans to have charging stations available to 80 percent of the U.S. and Canada, and 98 percent by the end of 2015. A 30-minute charge from a supercharger provides 200 miles of travel, according to the company.
Both efforts, the burgeoning Tesla and the failed Solyndra, underscore the risk and reward of clean energy investment. Commercial/industrial Darwinism rules here. It's the natural order of technological progress and the inherent uncertainty of venture funding.
The Bush administration was right to create the "innovative technologies" loan program that funded Solyndra, just as Obama's was right to promote Tesla. Both underscore a commitment to finding newer, cleaner and more sustainable ways to power America in the future. Even in oil-rich Kern County, we can benefit from such investment.