Archive for January 16th, 2011

Slipshod Reporting on Rare Earths & Solar

The Denver Post this morning reports that a lack of rare earths may be inhibiting the domestic solar cell industry.  How this is so, they never quite describe.  There’s no calculation, for instance, of what percent of a solar panel’s production cost comes from rare earths.  Possibly, this is because rare earths aren’t actually used in the production of solar cells.  According to a DOE study on strategic materials, solar cells use indium, tellurium, gallium, and maybe soon, selenium, none of which is in the lathanide series of rare earths.  A briefing by the Rare Earth Industry Trade Association on the importance of rare earths to green energy applications doesn’t mention solar at all.

By coincidence, the New York Times this morning ran a piece on why solar panel manufacturers are relocating to China, and it seems that the reason has nothing to do with rare earths, which aren’t mentioned at all, and everything to do with our willingness to take the place of Germany and Spain in directing massive subsidies to the panels’ production.  And in spite of our increasing mandates on so-called renewable energy as a source of electricity, it’s also not clear that we’ll be willing to force utilities to pay the exorbitant rates necessary to make large solar arrays profitable.

That, not the absence of a local rare earth supply, is what’s threatening a domestic solar industry.

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I Volunteer Cheri Jahn

Governor Hickenlooper has deservedly won praise for his idea of a “regulatory impact statement” for new regulations.  Such a statement would estimate the costs to business of new regulations, and be a good step towards an actual cost-benefit analysis of new rules.  Legislative Council already does something similar in the form of fiscal notes to new legislation.  (Such a statement would only really be of use if the processes for determining the costs were as open as the results; it might be all to easy for a bureaucracy to game the system, or for large businesses to underestimate the costs to smaller competitors.)

So it was particularly interesting to see the following statement in this weekend’s Denver Business Journal from State Senator Cheri Jahn:

“When legislation comes through, the very first thing I am going to look at is:  How will it effect my business and my ability to operate and to expand and to maintain what I am doing.”

“And if it is going to hurt me, I am not going to support it.”

Leaving aside the furor that would erupt if a Republican were to have said this – maybe only Jahn can go to China, so to speak – the sentiment is fine one.

Sen. Jahn serves on the Business, Labor, and Technology Committee, which has a 4-3 Democrat majority.  If she really wants to have the information necessary to make the calculation she claims to want to make, perhaps she could sponsor the legislation required to make this happen.  If she can’t be persuaded to do that, perhaps Sen. Shawn Mitchell could get her to vote for it.  If it were to pass committee 4-3, it would certainly Senate Democrats in a bind on a floor vote.

As for the House, in the past, Democrats have balked at even estimating the cost of new health insurance mandates.  This year, they wouldn’t have the votes.

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