GTM Research Managing Director Shayle Kann puts the Solyndra loan guarantee in perspective:

Since mid-2010, the DOE has made conditional commitments for 18 loan guarantees in solar to 14 different companies, funding for projects and funding for manufacturing. The total sum of these conditional commitments is $15.585 billion. Solyndra's loan guarantee was $535 million -- or 3.4 percent of the DOE's solar portfolio.

That number warrants repeating: 3.4 percent.

And Solyndra's $535 million is less than 2 percent of the total loan guarantee program.

The next time the argument is made that Solyndra's ill-judged loan guarantee guts the DOE and our government -- feel free to fire back with this figure. Or compare that number to the amount that China is pouring into its solar and renewable energy industry.

It's a portfolio approach from the DOE -- and that's a sound way of doing business which accounts for some failures.

The DOE loan guarantees go to risky endeavors such as Solyndra or SoloPower. But they also go to less risky utility-scale solar projects using solar technologies ranging from low-cost and proven photovoltaic panels to solar thermal.

Kann observed, "The Loan Guarantee program has been crucial both in enabling the largest solar projects currently in development and in supporting domestic solar manufacturing. Beyond this, the program is a particularly effective policy tool because it enables the government to leverage a relatively small public investment to mobilize a much larger private sector commitment. An expansion of the program would enable an entire group of large solar projects to move forward that have recently been called into question without the possibility of a loan guarantee."

Despite the assault of free-market, smaller-government advocates, the question remains: absent subsidies and lower-cost capital sources, how do you kick start an emerging industry like solar or biofuels that is confronted by the decidedly non-free-market incumbents of coal, oil and gas? We can either remove oil and gas subsidies or give these emerging technologies a helping hand.

Here's the current list of solar loan guarantee offers under the 1705 program:

       
1705
 
1366 Technologies         Solar Mfg         $150M   MA
        Solar Gen
        $1.4B
  AZ
Abengoa Solar
        Solar Gen
        $1.2B   CA
        Solar Mfg
        $400M
  CO
        Solar Gen
        $967M
  AZ
        Solar Gen
        $1.6B
  C
        Solar Gen
        $90.6M
  CO
First Solar (Antelope)         Solar Gen          $680M   CA
First Solar (Sunlight)         Solar Gen          $1.8B   CA
First Solar (Topaz)         Solar Gen          $1.9B   CA
Fotowatio         Solar Gen         $45.6M   NV
Sempra Mesquite         Solar Gen         $398M   AZ
NextEra (Genesis)         Solar Gen         $852M   CA
Prologis
        Solar Gen
         $1.4B   US
        Solar Gen
        $734M
  NV
        Solar Mfg
        $197M
  OR
        Solar Mfg
        $535M
  CA
        Solar Gen
        $1.1B
  CA

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