Is there a business (and the jobs it "creates") in the so-called "Green" sector that does not depend on massive government subsidies, tax breaks, or foundation generosity for its survival?
So far it has evaded my discovery.
On the other hand, finding those that do depend on taxpayer handouts is a frequent occurrence. Every time the layers are peeled on such companies, not only are significant public dollars revealed, but so also is there little or no justification for the money they receive.
The latest I've discovered is Scottsdale, Ariz.-based ECOtality, which is another in a litany of companies with cutesy, Green-sounding names. Its work was featured recently by the Oregonian, which reported that the company will install about 1,150 electric vehicle charging stations in homes, businesses and public spaces in four of the state's major cities. The project -- which extends to 16 cities across the country -- is backed by $115 million in Department of Energy grants.
"The launch is part of the EV Project, a three-year study of how people use electric cars," the newspaper reported. "The project will collect non-personal data from the car and the charging station, such as the amount of energy and length of charging time, to look at how to create more energy-efficient systems."
So there you go: Government-funded intrusion to study how citizens plug new electronic gadgets into the wall. Did cell phones start this way?
Anyway, the project gives the also-very-subsidized sales of the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt some oomph. Drivers of those electric vehicles who also sign up for the ECOtality project will receive a free charging station, a $1,200 value. With the $7,500 tax credit for the vehicle, those are some big dollars to get somebody to develop a habit for the government to study.
The Oregonian reports that 600 Oregonians have already signed up for the program, which means $720,000 flowing from your pockets to the test cases', so they can have a free gas pump lookalike in their garages that dispenses electricity. But there are more as five other states are part of the project, with ECOtality planning to give away a total of 15,085 charging systems to the guinea pigs.
You might think this largess would lift ECOtality above the profitability line. You'd be wrong. Through the third quarter of last year the company had a net loss of $12.5 million, on $9.3 million in revenues, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings. This followed losses of $29.5 million in 2009 and more than $8 million in 2008, yet somehow the government thought ECOtality was a good "investment" of your tax dollars.
Over a year ago Tucson Tea Party leader Robert Mayer identified some ECOtality political connections, after President Obama praised the company in his State of the Union address. CEO Jonathan Read, board member Slade Mead, and vice president Colin Read either gave maximum donations to, or worked on the campaign of, former U.S. Rep. Harry Mitchell of Arizona, a Democrat earmarker extraordinaire until he lost his seat last year. Undoubtedly the president appreciated Mitchell's hold on that Republican-leaning district for two straight terms. His presence on the House Committee on Science and Technology, and on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, didn't hurt ECOtality's cause either.
In practical terms the government is massively subsidizing an inefficient, wasteful project. It takes 7 hours on a special 240-volt charger to maximize a Nissan Leaf battery. It will go 100 miles on a charge in perfect atmospheric conditions, if you've stored it in climatically ideal garage. But only goes 70 miles on a hot summer day, and less if you run its heater in the winter. And you need an assessment of your home's electrical system to determine whether it can handle the charger.
This study of Leaf users' habits will discover one thing: When taxpayer funding runs out for this boondoggle, electric cars will fail -- in ECOtality. And then Green jobholders will be off to find the next government "investment."