The renewable energy industry has gone from a media darling to often being blamed for a wide range of problems and economic issues. Those problems often in truth have little or nothing to do with the underlying business propositions of the projects that make up the sector, and we at AOL Energy hear feedback and complaints from the industry all the time.
Support for renewable energy by the Obama administration has made the sector a political football, with the Romney campaign attacking green energy projects without much nuance. Many forms of renewable energy are in fact actively supported by Republicans who might shy away from the “green energy” label, and that reflects an evolving complexity that has proved difficult for much of the media to cover.
When support for green energy was first included in the stimulus, and extended through tax credits and other forms of policy, the US was facing serious energy problems. Oil was stubbornly expensive despite a global economic meltdown, the shale revolution in natural gas had not quite hit its stride and companies were still bracing for climate change policies and a price on carbon emissions.
The operating environment has changed since 2008, to say the least. While many of the policies advocated by the Obama administration and others had the desired effects of bringing down prices sharply, as well as improving technology significantly and creating manufacturing jobs, those policies are bearing fruit in a different world from the one in which they were crafted. All forms of energy now have trouble competing with natural gas on a price basis in the US, industry dodged responsibility for carbon dioxide emissions and oil prices have remained surprisingly steady despite heightening political tensions in the Persian Gulf.
Renewable energy projects can no longer be evaluated as part of a “trend,” they are now going through the hard work of proving their economic worth to a doubtful public.
These kinds of media frenzies are not unheard of. When the dot com boom ended twelve years ago, the internet didn’t disappear, and the renewable energy industry isn’t going anywhere either. It is harder, more time-consuming and often simply more boring to cover the complex and shifting finances of real businesses than it is to participate in what is sold as a world-changing “cause,” but that’s the shift that media covering the US renewable business is having to make.
There won’t be much change until after the mud-slinging of the election is finished and some work can be done on consistent policy setting for investors and operators, but the transition to more serious and more in-depth reporting of the renewable business is underway, and the sector itself should welcome the change.
Peter Gardett is Managing Editor of AOL Energy. AOL Energy provides access to news, analysis, thought leadership and discussions about the top stories in the energy sector today.