A Colorado-based free-market think tank located in Denver challenged the state’s paper of record when it launched a media blitz that included a billboard (seen above) accusing the media outlet of ignoring one of the state’s largest green energy failures this year.
Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, challenged The Denver Post in a press release and blog post that accompanied the installation of the billboard, alleging that while the newspaper responsibly covered the story of Abound Solar when it received a $400 million Department of Energy loan guarantee, it gave short shrift to the news surrounding the company’s demise, even after other local and national media outlets reported Abound’s bankruptcy and pending local and congressional investigations.
“It’s sad that you have to rent a billboard every time there’s a story that should be reported in the news,” Caldara told Scribe.
Caldara laid out his claims in a press release and blog post he wrote last week:
In our own backyard is Solyndra on steroids, and not a peep from the Denver Post. A politically-connected solar company gets a $400 million guarantee of government loans. And we learn of the Pat Stryker connection from Complete Colorado.
When the firm went belly-up the company execs told a Congressional committee it was because of cheap Chinese competition. But when whistle blowers show that the product was so faulty it would catch fire, it was the Daily Caller that told the story. As one worker said – it was a fine product, so long as you didn’t put it in the sun.
When documents were found suggesting Abound falsified its books to secure funding, there was no story in the Post. You had to go to Fox News.
When the District Attorney of Weld County opened a full investigation into Abound, you could find the story on Channel 7, but not in the Post.
When the US House Energy and Commerce Committee announced a further investigation into Abound, the story made it to Reuters, but not the Post.
Caldara called the absence of any reporting on the company’s demise shocking, given what he described as the possibility of “people going to jail,” pointing to the ongoing investigation in Weld County, Colorado.
For Caldara, the circumstances surrounding Abound Solar’s meteoric rise, government funding, political connections, and well-documented failure–combined with what the investigations might reveal–could make the Colorado solar manufacturer’s story “worse than Solyndra.”
Within a few days of the billboard’s appearance, the Post weighed in on Abound, listing the company alongside a list of other “new energy economy” failures, with the bankruptcy at Abound and layoffs and shelved plans at other Colorado companies testing the “resilience” of the “vaunted ‘new energy economy’”:
At the least, the setbacks are a speed bump in Colorado’s effort to maintain a leadership status in renewable energy. At worst, they could significantly impair growth of the industry.
The combined layoffs, plant closure and mothballed projects in Colorado represent the loss of more than 1,000 existing and projected jobs, plus millions of dollars of tax revenue and spinoff economic activity.
Hard times for the green industries stem from a combination of technical challenges, low-cost foreign competition and an uncertain outlook for government support of alternative energy.
Abound Solar’s executives laid the blame on Chinese subsidies on its own solar manufacturers and cutthroat pricing when they appeared before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in July, just weeks after the company announced its bankruptcy plans.
But questions regarding the performance of the company’s solar panels that first emerged due to the digging of investigative reporter Todd Shepherd, documented extensively by the Daily Caller, did not disappear with the Post’s story. However, a story involving the installation of Abound panels by another Colorado solar firm instead appeared to independently confirm allegations that, instead of price competition, Abound Solar really suffered from poor product performance:
Namaste Solar of Boulder, one of Colorado’s largest solar-system installers, has used Abound panels for two projects. On one of the installations, using an early version of Abound panels, the equipment malfunctioned and needed to be replaced. The second project using a later version operated normally.
Namaste’s president, however, put the blame on the company’s failure to scale production and achieve cost-competitiveness as the reason for the rapid demise.
Mark Jaffe, the Post’s energy business beat reporter, dismissed the Solyndra comparison just a few days after the bankruptcy announcement from Abound, pointing to scaling, pricing, and other factors as evidence that the two bankrupt solar companies were unrelated except for both being recipients of DOE loan guarantees.
Later, Jaffe wrote about the “still shining” U.S. solar market in a post from early September. But in subsequent weeks, the business blog remained relatively quiet on the issue of Abound Solar, and a story about the new investigations at the local and federal levels, outside of local television media and other national outlets, was not forthcoming, even after the official investigations were made public.
This gap in coverage is what prompted Caldara to act.
“We put a billboard across the street from the Denver Post to remind them that they are STILL the paper of record in Colorado. And it’s time they stopped turning a blind eye to news that matters. We want the Post to succeed,” Caldara wrote.
“I want to see the Post survive and thrive. The state needs a trusted news source. But just like when a friend needs an intervention, the Post needs to hear the truth no matter how painful.”
Editors at the Post respectfully declined comment for this story.
**Disclosure: The author was previously an employee of the Independence Institute.