As a result of Sunday night’s 60 Minutes story about cleantech, a lot of people are emailing me or clicking in here for the first time. I will have a more in-depth report on my contribution to the story — particularly the bits that didn’t survive the editing process — but for now let me offer some quick answers to some questions/comments that I are coming up frequently. First, if you have no idea what I am talking about, here is the story that aired last night:
Here are some quick answers to questions.
I am Robert Rapier. I am a chemical engineer and author of Power Plays: Energy Options in the Age of Peak Oil. I have spent over 20 years working in the energy businesns. I have worked in many areas of the energy industry — including a number of renewable energy projects — but have spent most of my time working on liquid fuels. You can view my CV here.
I was contacted by 60 Minutes because I have written a lot about flaws in our energy policies which ultimately resulted in a lot of wasted tax dollars — particularly on biofuel projects. I have been critical of Vinod Khosla’s history of going to Congress, making promises, asking for money, and then failing to deliver. My criticisms were two-fold. One was that he had no energy industry experience at all, and thus shouldn’t ask taxpayers to fund his learning curve. The other is that by overpromising and failing to deliver (and I had many reasons for expecting this would be the case) he would damage the credibility of the biofuels sector (which he undoubtedly has at this point). Mr. Khosla and I have discussed his approach, and we were not on the same page.
I am by no means a foe of cleantech. I have worked off and on in cleantech for many years, and my current job is in cleantech. I am especially a fan of solar power, and have written about it positively for many years. I will provide more details on this later, but I gave several examples of cleantech successes to Lesley Stahl, and I told her in no uncertain terms that cleantech is not dead.
My criticism over the years of various biofuel boondoggles isn’t because they failed; it’s because in many cases it should have been obvious they would. At times the wheel was being reinvented at taxpayer expense. If a venture capitalist funds a biofuel venture and fails, then that’s not my concern. If he does it with tax dollars, it may become my concern.
I pointed out that Vinod Khosla’s biofuel investments are down by 85 percent or so, but I also said that he is putting his money where his mouth was. Further, I said that since private investors are funding his latest schemes — as in the case of KiOR, Gevo, and Amyris — it isn’t of concern to me as a taxpayer since he isn’t risking my tax dollars. In his earlier biofuel ventures like Range Fuels, he relied heavily on tax dollars. As a result, you don’t see me writing much about Gevo, in contrast to my writings about Range Fuels.
I will have more details on the back story in a day or two, including many of the exchanges that didn’t make it into the final story. Until then you can also find me discussing the story on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.
Photo Credit: Cleantech/shutterstock