Mitt Romney surprised reporters last Thursday by making an unscheduled visit to the building that housed bankrupt California solar panel company Solyndra; Mitt used the empty headquarters as a backdrop to criticize President Obama for a $530 million federal loan to the failed company. But the very next day, Konarka Technologies, a Massachusetts solar panel maker to which Romney had lent $1.5 million in state money as governor, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. And Konarka is not the first belly-up solar firm Gov. Romney subsidized (see Evergreen Solar). Does Konarka neuter Romney's attacks on Solyndra?
Yes. Romney now has his own Solyndra problem: Konarka represents "an inconvenient truth" for Romney, says Taylor Marsh at her blog. His Solyndra attack on Obama was already based on "talking points that aren't supported by the facts, unless you get all your news from the Right and Rush Limbaugh." Now it just looks embarrassing and hypocritical. Romney clearly knows that "investments don't always pan out, especially on new and groundbreaking technologies" like solar, and after Konarka, he may be forced to acknowledge that.
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But Konarka is no Solyndra: There are quite a few differences between Solyndra and Konarka, politically and substantively, Nanomarkets analyst Lawrence Gasman tells Politico. For starters, "it doesn't seem like a very good argument to counter a loss of $530 million by pointing out that the man who is accusing you once lost $1.5 million in vaguely but not all that similar circumstances." And don't forget: The FBI is investigating Solyndra, not Konarka.
Let's leave politics out of the solar equation: It's a shame when a solar company or two goes out of business, says Walter Frick at BostInno. But "a failed company doesn't necessarily mean a failed policy," especially when the policy is crucial to securing affordable clean energy. "If we want to have a sane conversation about energy policy in the wake of a company like Solyndra or Konarka going bankrupt," we need to drop the gotchas and accept that all angel investors, private or public, hope for "one or two home runs" among dozens of strikeouts. Despite the disappointments, this is still a game worth playing.
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