Proterra, a supplier and manufacturer of electric buses, batteries, and charging stations, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on August 7, stating that “it would operate as usual during the process,” continue paying its employees, and focus on batteries moving forward. However, right-wing media quickly attempted to spin the news as a scandal for President Joe Biden’s administration, suggesting that Proterra’s bankruptcy filing is evidence that government investment in clean energy is a waste of taxpayer dollars and proves that current technology does not support the United States’ transition to a greener economy.
Right-wing media are attempting to spin the Proterra bankruptcy as “Solyndra part two”
The solar manufacturer Solyndra, which had received a $535 million loan guarantee under the Obama administration’s stimulus package, declared bankruptcy in 2011. In response, right-wing media tried to make the company into a household name associated with wasteful government spending and unreliable clean energy.
But even though Solyndra failed, it was one of only two companies that did not repay their loans intended to stimulate the burgeoning renewable energy industry. According to a piece in the MIT Technology Review making the case for public investment in renewable technology:
While Solyndra’s downfall received a lot of spilled ink in the media, Solyndra was actually one of only two failures. The other 22 companies repaid their loans, resulting in a profitable program overall that helped accelerate multiple green industries in the US. And one recipient is now a wildly successful electric automaker: Tesla.
The process of industrial development takes time. Winners, like Tesla, and losers, like Solyndra, inevitably emerge. In the early stages of any industry’s development, firms with good ideas and good products may fail for a host of reasons.
We know the economic and environmental costs of continuing to burn fossil fuels will be devastating. Federal support for green technology can help the industry past the hurdles of early market failures and the speedbumps that inevitably come with introducing new products and ways of doing things.
In fact, the price of solar energy dropped 89% from 2009 to 2019, during much of the decade after Solyndra’s downfall. And as The New York Times recently reported, “Wind and solar power are breaking records, and renewables are now expected to overtake coal by 2025 as the world’s largest source of electricity.”
Now, right-wing media are trying to cast the Proterra bankruptcy as “Biden’s Solyndra,” after Proterra had been at the forefront of the administration’s efforts to electrify buses — making it a natural target for right-wing media’s attacks.
- Fox Business contributor and hedge fund manager Jonathan Hoenig said Proterra is “Solyndra part two.” “Look to history to know what to tame inflation — it’s not government spending and government green energy boondoggles like Proterra, which President Biden supported and has now gone bankrupt. It's kind of like Solyndra part two.” [Fox News, Fox News Live, 8/12/23]
- Fox News co-host Jeanine Pirro on The Five: “It’s like Solyndra. We put all our taxpayers’ dollars in it and we make sure that the taxpayer is the last person to ever get paid back.” [Fox News, The Five, 8/9/23]
- Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton: “Solyndra, Biden edition.” [Twitter, 8/9/23]
- Chuck Ross of the conservative Washington Free Beacon: “The parallels between Proterra and Solyndra are pretty clear, as @MatthewFoldi's reported. Obama in 2010: Solyndra is ‘leading the way toward a brighter and more prosperous future.’ Biden in 2021: Proterra is ‘going to end up owning the future.’” [Twitter, 8/8/23]
- In an article asking, “Is This Biden’s Solyndra?” conservative publication Red State said, “Once again, we are facing a boondoggle bureaucracy where green companies are propped up by both government largesse and the promise of future contracts. And yet, with all of that artificial market assistance, they still cannot find a way to get renewable revenues.” [Red State, 8/8/23]
- Fox News host Sean Hannity on his radio show: “By the way, we now have a Biden-Solyndra scandal that has emerged, which is exactly what it is.” Hannity continued, “Remember the solar panel manufacturer that went bankrupt after the Obama administration invested over 500 million of your tax dollars in it while promising it's gonna create thousands of new green energy jobs? Well, two years ago, Biden predicted that electric bus manufacturer Proterra would, quote, ‘own the future’ after his administration poured 45 billion tax dollars … into this electric bus industry.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 8/8/23]
- Conservative news outlet the Washington Times wrote: “Critics of Mr. Biden’s green energy agenda compared Proterra to Solyndra, the solar panel start-up that received a more than $500 million loan under the Obama administration before going belly-up.” [Washington Times, 8/8/23]
Right-wing media use Proterra’s bankruptcy to denigrate the energy transition
Conservative commentators were also quick to claim that Proterra’s troubles are proof that the United States is not ready for a clean energy transition, using the company’s failure to attack the Biden administration’s larger spending on climate change and green energy projects.
In fact, the Inflation Reduction Act, which allocated a historic $369 billion in climate and energy provisions, has transformed the clean energy landscape by funding new developments and electric vehicle production across the U.S. Since its passage, 272 clean energy projects have been announced in the United States representing $278 billion in new investment and creating 179,606 new jobs, according to Climate Power. (Notably, the majority of IRA credits and loans are benefiting red congressional districts — an analysis by Politico earlier in the year found that Republican districts were home to about two-thirds of the major renewable energy, battery, and electric vehicle projects that companies had announced since the IRA became law last August.)
According to Proterra’s bankruptcy filings, “it has delivered 1,000 electric buses, including 199 last year as agencies ramped up to switch to battery power.” And even as Proterra itself struggled to stay profitable, the electric bus industry is thriving. For example, electric vehicles made by Thomas Built Buses “are suddenly in such high demand that the country’s largest manufacturer can hardly keep up,” according to a recent Washington Post article.
- In an article claiming that the media are failing to hold Biden accountable for Proterra, Breitbart wrote that “Biden’s green energy failures … are accompanied by an alarmist philosophy about climate change that serves as an excuse for investing in unproven technologies and businesses that might otherwise not pass muster.” [Breitbart, 8/11/23]
- Senior counsel at The Lawfare Project Gerard Filitti on Newsmax’s The National Report: “Over-promising and under-delivering is a theme both for companies that go into bankruptcy, and when it comes to Joe Biden and the economy … that speaks a lot about what the economic agenda has been. He's supporting the wrong companies.” “And it's interesting to think how much taxpayer money is actually going into these companies.” Filitti continued, “The government is looking to provide free money for a lot of companies, and the government is looking to help and choose winners.” [Newsmax, The National Report, 8/9/23]
- Fossil fuel shill Steve Milloy: “Biden-favored EV bus and battery maker @Proterra_Inc files for bankruptcy. Even mandates and subsidies can't save the EV industry.” [Twitter, 8/8/23]
- President of right-wing think tank American Action Forum Doug Holtz-Eakin: “The difference here is we are not following the normal economic course of events.” He continued, “The administration has piled hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to try to jump start and create from out of whole cloth an industry and the supply chain for that industry and fuel for that industry and it's not ready for the demands that have been placed on it and we are going to see more failures, because the technologies and the business models aren’t ready.” [Fox News, America Reports, 8/8/23]
- Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier cited Holtz-Eakin repeating the same line from America Reports: “We're going to see more failures because the technology and the business models aren't ready.” [Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier, 8/8/23]
- Discussing Proterra’s bankruptcy, Fox News guest Steve Moore said green energy spending “is the worst investment the federal government has ever made.” “By the way, we have spent as a nation, well over $500 billion over the last 40 years subsidizing the wind and solar industry. And it still only counts for 6% of our energy. It is the worst investment the federal government has ever made.” [Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 8/8/23]
- Writing for the website of former Fox host Dan Bongino, conservative commentator Matt Palumbo claimed: “Proterra, an electric bus manufacturing company promoted by the Biden administration, had everything it needed to succeed - and failed anyway. … Evidently, Bidenomics isn’t even working for those it’s supposed to be rigged in favor of.” [Bongino.com, 8/8/23]