Saturday, April 07, 2012

The Unraveling Global ‘Earth Hour’ Energy Industry Bubble

Like the welfare state, the supposedly politically correct environmental position represented by green energy projects are being exposed for what they truly are—delusions of grandeur.

Political support for green ‘renewable’ energy has been diminishing in Western nations.

From the Wall Street Journal, (bold emphasis mine)

The green economy strikes again, or shall we say strikes out. Oakland-based Solar Trust of America filed for bankruptcy this week, leaving its planned multibillion-dollar plant in California on ice. The company declared itself insolvent after its parent—Germany's Solar Millennium—filed for bankruptcy in December, and Solar Trust realized it wouldn't be able to pay a $1 million rent check due April 1.

Solar Millennium, in turn, had been hoping to sell a controlling stake in Solar Trust to the German company, solarhybrid, until solarhybrid also filed for bankruptcy in March. Then there's Q-Cells, another German solar company, which also filed for bankruptcy this week, sharing that fate with Solon, the Berlin-headquartered photovoltaic firm that went bust in December.

This cascade of insolvencies comes after Germany decided last year to slash the above-market prices it forces utilities to pay for renewable energy sources and to cut the subsidies that have locked German taxpayers into €100 billion in handouts to the solar industry. Even before the subsidy cut, German solar manufacturers were struggling under price pressure from China, which has responded to Western subsidies by ramping up its own production, undercutting higher-cost European and American producers in the process.

Greens in Germany and beyond are protesting that if only governments would continue soaking taxpayers to prop up solar, wind and other low-carbon favorites, these technologies would be viable. But even that is far from clear. Q-Cells and others had responded to Chinese competition by outsourcing some of their own production to Asia to cut costs. That wasn't enough to save them.

The real story is that green manufacturing, which was supposed to be the planet's salvation and Europe's new industrial base, proved to be as vulnerable to low-cost competition as many other industries. Far from creating a sustainable comparative advantage, German subsidies sparked the very rivalry now putting its home-grown industry out of business.

The Italian government appears to have taken note of these economic realities and last weekend said it would slash "excessive" subsidies for solar and wind power. Industry Minister Corrado Passera uttered the obligatory promise that Rome remains committed to generating a carbon-free, wind- and sun-powered economy, but that "we need to do so without overreliance on taxpayer resources."

So economic reality has been prevailing over mass hysteria.

Aside from gross mismanagement, mainly due to the moral hazard of political support which has been wasting taxpayers money, competition from Asia has added to the industry’s woes.

Of course, the most important factor is that there is no such thing as a free lunch, or the Santa Claus Principle, as most political zealots believe.

And considering the tremendous financial pressures to survive the welfare state, politicians see the latter as more of a priority than sustaining the economically unviable green industry, which ironically, has been contributing to the welfare state’s financial burden.

Under fiscal pressure from the ongoing debt crisis ordeal, Spain has also cut subsidies to unfeasible political pet projects.

From Bloomberg, (bold emphasis mine)

Spain halted subsidies for renewable energy projects to help curb its budget deficit and rein in power-system borrowings backed by the state that reached 24 billion euros ($31 billion) at the end of 2011.

“What is today an energy problem could become a financial problem,” Industry Minister Jose Manuel Soria said in Madrid. The government passed a decree today stopping subsidies for new wind, solar, co-generation or waste incineration plants.

The system’s debts were racked up as revenue from state- controlled prices failed to cover the cost of delivering power. Costs have swollen in the past five years because of an increase in regulated payments for the power grid, support for Spanish coal mines and subsidies for renewable energy plants…

Spain’s decision is a “first step” to rein in debts, and officials are working on a broader package of measures, Soria said. The nation isn’t planning a levy on hydropower or nuclear plants, nor will it take on power-system liabilities, he said.

The Spanish action follows Germany’s announcement last week that it would phase out support for solar panels by 2017 and the U.K.’s legal battle to reduce its subsidies for the industry.

Spain was an early mover in developing renewables plants, and support for wind energy helped Iberdrola become the world’s biggest producer of clean power, with plants in the U.S. and Brazil. The industry sustains about 110,000 Spanish jobs, according to the Renewable Energy Producers Association.

The government is wrestling with competing priorities as it struggles to convince investors it can meet a target to cut the budget deficit to 4.4 percent of gross domestic product this year, from 8 percent last year, while trying to create jobs in a country where 23 percent of workers are unemployed.

Oooooh that ought to hurt.

A relevant quote from Warren Buffett on bubbles,

Only when the tide goes out do you discover who's been swimming naked.

Apparently green energy has been caught swimming naked and whose bubble seems to have been pricked.

Yet those proposing to promote green energy in the Philippines through the same political route of subsidies (whether consumer or supplier based) ought to open their eyes and see what has been happening abroad.

Any industry that cannot survive on its own [because the consumers don’t want them] and which requires political fiat to thrive extrapolates to a redistribution of resources from the economy to the political privileged groups. This is rank crony capitalism.

And crony capitalism results to huge wastages, economic inefficiency, discoordination of the economy and corruption among the many other nasty side effects. And this accounts for as the reverse Robin Hood where the poor and the middle class subsidizes the rich cronies (through taxes and inflation).

Worst is that the underlying (feel good) dogma of such environmental political religion has been founded on supposed infallibility and omniscience of computer based models.

As the great H.L. Mencken wrote,

Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.

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