In remarks sure to inflame GOP, ex-official asserts on ’60 Minutes’ that clean tech is ‘on life support’

Source: Emily Yehle, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, January 6, 2014

Clean technology is “on life support,” according to the Energy Department’s former undersecretary of science, who conceded the point last night in a segment on “60 Minutes” that declared the sector all but dead.

The piece, reported by CBS’s Lesley Stahl, asserted that the Obama administration has put more than $100 billion into an industry that is failing — a view shared by many congressional Republicans.

But Stahl’s report featured some criticism from a former Obama administration official: Steven Koonin, who was a close adviser to former Energy Secretary Steven Chu and oversaw the agency’s controversial loan guarantee program.

Though Koonin called the overall investment a “good value for the money,” he also pointed to government missteps in the failure of such taxpayer-funded companies as Solyndra and Fisker.

“I put some of the major blame on the government, both the executive branch and Congress, for an inability to set a thoughtful and consistent energy policy,” Koonin said. When asked whether clean technology is dead, he replied: “There are parts of it that I would say are on life support right now.”

Koonin was also critical of the job he did during his two-year tenure at DOE.

“I think I didn’t do as good a job as I could’ve,” he said. “In retrospect, I would’ve done things a bit differently.”

The “60 Minutes” segment highlights several of the failures of DOE’s loan guarantee program, including the bankruptcies of solar company Solyndra and Fisker Automotive. It also focused on one venture capitalist, Vinod Khosla, who has invested more than $1 billion in energy startups, including several that have received taxpayer money and have failed to make a profit.

The American Council on Renewable Energy called the story one-sided, before the segment even aired, pointing out the increase of wind energy installations and that DOE estimates its loan guarantee program has a 97 percent success rate.