I love the promise of clean energy technology. If there was a reasonably priced option, I would put solar energy gathering shingles on my house next week. (Yes, a crew is actually putting new shingles on my house next week.)
While I was choosing my new shingles, I researched the solar energy options and it made me realize that despite the billions invested by the Obama administration, none of the “clean energy” solutions are viable for the vast majority of us.
Then I read about the purchase of SolarCity by Tesla Motors. Last year, the Los Angeles Times reported that Tesla, SpaceX and SolarCity received $4.9 billion in governmental subsidies. Elon Musk’s defense of his dependency on government largesse? “If I cared about subsidies, I would have entered the oil and gas industry.”
So rather than address the concerns raised by unbiased, California-living L.A. Times reporters, instead Musk masterfully dances around the issue with a carefully spun response that the government investment should invest in a transition to renewable energy to prevent the end of the earth.
Musk is tying all three of these clean energy companies together in a shared goal, arguing that “we should become a multi-planet species,” using SpaceX as an “insurance policy.” Yet, despite so much money poured in by the Obama administration and several different states into this interconnected tangle of companies, Musk’s space dream has proven to fail — not sometimes, but consistently.
The Falcon 9 is the launch vehicle of Space X. It has been heralded by Musk as the answer to all of our problems. This is odd considering that it has failed in getting off the ground and effectively delayed launches an average of two years for every launch. The issue is that Musk sets unrealistic goals, like a student who begs his teacher for an extension to turn in their homework, and then manages to get that deadline extended again — every time the deadline approaches.
In any accountable workplace, consistent delays and postponements of this level would get anyone fired. In a market-based business environment, people would take their money and investment elsewhere. That is exactly what should be happening with SpaceX. Instead, investors remain as government contracts are artificially keeping the company afloat.
The L.A. Times estimated that SpaceX alone is heavily subsidized by at least $5.5 billion in federal grants from the U.S. government. This does not include the additional $20 million in tax incentives that Space X receives yearly. Who needs private investors when you can force everyone else to pay money in taxes?
When commercial investors and broader market indexes move out of an investment, it is generally expected that a wise investor do the same. But the Obama administration has not been a wise investor, nor does it intend to be one. It simply continues to agree with the rhetoric that Musk spews.
Progressive policymakers see Musk’s SpaceX as a symbol of clean energy and the future. They invest in his vision because they are easily swayed by the idea that this policy would stand as a symbol for their platform and re-election, rather than as a practical investment. When push comes to shove, these policymakers would rather see symbolism unsupported by fact than fact that lacks symbolism.
But the truth is that the facts carry significant weight on our future as a country, especially our aerospace programs. We need working launch systems to deliver food, water and scientific supplies to the Americans and other scientists on the International Space Station. We need working, dependable launch systems to put new communications satellites into orbit. Instead of falling for the narrative that Musk is the only one who can save us, politicians need to open their blinders and see that there are plenty of other opportunities.
United Launch Alliance, spearheaded by Boeing, has a 100 percent success rate on all its launches. Yes, the company charges more than Musk, but frankly, ULA’s rockets deliver payload.
Basic market economics of the balance between “supply and demand” means ULA might actually be charging the correct amount.
If the Obama administration truly wanted to focus on clean energy technology, there are several small startups inventing new ways to send satellites to space with little or no fuel. Innovation like this, far beyond the interest of the standard investors, is where government funding should be. If the government stopped picking winners and losers by subsidizing the space industry, you can bet that even better innovations would sprout up on the open market as well.
It is imperative that the incoming Trump administration not be blind to the facts. They must take notice that Musk is not the man his public relations campaign claims. He and his companies continue to take advantage of both policymakers and taxpayers — playing a gigantic game of “Three-Card Monte.”
Even if Musk does have the best of intentions, the manner in which he runs his business eliminates competition, stifles market-based investment and absorbs billions of dollars of government funding. Taking away those funds to float his lavish lifestyle hurts the people he is supposedly trying to save.
Maybe then I can get some solar shingles on my house that work.