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Published: Thursday, 9/29/2011

Don't block the sun


Northwest Ohio has too much at stake in building its renewable-energy industries — especially solar power — to tolerate politicians who want to exploit the bankruptcy filing of Solyndra Inc. for cheap partisan advantage.

State and local officials must reaffirm their support for solar energy and public investment in it. So must the private firms affiliated with the University of Toledo’s Clean and Alternative Energy Incubator and Owens Community College’s Green and Alternative Energy program.

Solar power is one of the few growing sectors of Ohio’s lackluster economy. It accounts for 6,000 of the state’s 35,000 clean-energy jobs, largely because of scientific innovation in northwest Ohio.

Republicans blame the Obama Administration for the failure of California-based Solyndra after it got $535 million in federal loan guarantees — even though the company qualified for the guarantees during George W. Bush’s presidency. That carping should not diminish Mr. Obama’s support for solar energy.

To be sure, the White House naively used Solyndra as a poster child for stimulus funding. The company made the fatal mistake of investing heavily in a new type of solar array just as the price of silicon, the main ingredient in competitors’ solar cells, was dropping.

But the Solyndra failure is not an indictment of solar energy itself. Turning away from solar energy now in favor of a foolhardy “drill, baby, drill” energy policy would have devastating consequences for the nation and especially for northwest Ohio.

Venture capital assumes an inherent degree of risk. President Obama stabilized an economy on the brink of chaos by taking risks that the private sector was reluctant to take, in order to stave off a depression. If Americans forget that, our country will concede the solar-energy market to China, which is investing heavily in solar power.

Locally, Xunlight has received nearly $50 million in state and federal grants, subsidies, and tax breaks. Willard & Kelsey has gotten $19.5 million. First Solar, which has received $16.3 million, also was approved this month for a $455.7 million loan from the Export-Import Bank of the United States.

Renewable power, like any other industry, will have winners and losers. In Solyndra, President Obama bet on the wrong horse — but surely not on the wrong industry.

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