Solyndra's Bankruptcy in Context

Weeks after the solar-array manufacturer Solyndra declared bankruptcy, the federally funded company remains under scrutiny.

Critics have good reason to be concerned; after all, Solyndra received more than $500 million in federally guaranteed loans, only to go under within 18 months of receiving the funds. Investigations of what went wrong are now taking place both in Congress and the White House. Whether anything untoward or illegal occurred remains to be seen.

But whatever happened with Solyndra should not obscure the bigger picture, namely the pressing need for the United States to develop solar energy as part of its effort to become energy independent.

In 2010, the U.S. spent $500 billion on foreign oil. The costs have increased annually due to soaring oil demands from other countries and America's growing reliance. Today, two-thirds of our oil comes from abroad - mostly from countries unfriendly to the United States. It's in this context that Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005, legislation designed to help the U.S. develop alternative energy.

The Obama administration built onto the alternative energy platform. Using funds from the Economic Recovery Act, the administration has committed more than $11 billion in loans for 30 projects. Three, including Solyndra, have failed. However, the others have moved ahead. The administration anticipates spending another $5 billion over the next year.

Yet, even the current level of expenditure pales next to the commitment by China, which spent $30 billion on solar energy development this past year alone.

None of this diminishes the disappointment about the failure of Solyndra. Certainly, best practices lessons must emerge from the experience.

At the same time, it's clear that if the U.S. has any hope of every becoming energy independent, more alternative energy commitments must move forward. To do anything otherwise will doom us to permanent dependence.

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