Green energy subsidies return; Washington must be educated

If you thought the failures of green energy giveaways put the folly to rest, you were mistaken.

The Department of Energy announced last week that it plans to conduct an outreach campaign to educate industry associations and potential applicants about the availability of “substantial remaining funds” in the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Loan Program, otherwise known as green energy subsidies.

The program stopped making loans in 2011 following the failure of companies such as Fisker Automotive, the electric carmaker. You might also remember A123 Systems, an electric battery manufacturer that went bankrupt after receiving millions of dollars in federal green energy subsidies. Now, under the Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, the folly has returned. The program, to which the government initially allocated $25 million of taxpayer money in 2008, still has more than $15 million available and Moniz wants to dole it out as if Fisker, A123 and Soyndra never happened.

Defenders of green energy subsidies point to Tesla Motors, an electric carmaker that received taxpayer money and managed to pay it back several years ahead of schedule. What these proponents don’t mention is that Tesla Motors continues to receive a hefty $7,500 federal tax credit for every car sold.

But what no one has apparently asked Energy Secretary Moniz is where will electric car owners take their cars for service, given the extra cost needed to service electric vehicles and the rising lack of qualified automotive technicians?

VehicleServicePros reported earlier this year that many Chevrolet dealers will not service the Chevy Volt because of the high tool cost, estimated at $5,100. 

The technician shortage is an even bigger challenge, and it will hamper the development of new energy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that with Baby Boomers retiring, the number of technicians will need to increase by nearly 125,000 to meet demand.

If the government wants to promote alternative energy, the best way to do it is to let the market develop naturally; without subsidies that make it difficult for companies to measure long-term demand.

In the meantime, the government could do a lot to help the automotive industry and the unemployed by investing more in vocational training. The automotive industry needs more qualified technicians to service increasingly diverse and technologically advanced vehicles.

While the government campaigns for takers for its green energy subsidies, the automotive industry should campaign for a more responsible government. Automotive industry associations should combine forces to educate government officials about the looming technician shortage and what government can do to help.