Bill Hicks is Still Relevent
When I hear the vitriol directed at the solar industry due to the Solyndra collapse, and the reports about how the renewable industry has been a huge waste of money for the country, I make a mental association with Bill Hicks and some of his work as a standup comedian. But Mr. Hicks, much like the recently deceased George Carlin, wasn’t really a comedian, but more of a modern day philosopher, a social commentator, a master of helping us to see the ridiculousness of our society and the conversations we allow to infect our perceptions.
Before his death, Bill Hicks managed to compile a lasting trove of social commentary which remains relevant to this day. One piece of commentary is especially valid regarding the solar industry, although his context was different. At a show in London, Hicks described our foreign policy with a western scene. Basically, he throws a gun at a shepherd’s feet and tells him “Pick it up.”, the shepherd refuses persistently but eventually picks up the gun. He then shoots the shepherd and says “You all saw it. He had a gun.” Essentially, the shepherd was set up for ultimate failure. The solar industry in America is now facing a similar choice. After watching and listening to the plethora of nonsense from half informed talking heads and the all-out attack on renewable energy coming from the right, I feel like it is time to inject some sanity into the discussion.
In order to adhere to the K.I.S.S. principal (Keep It Simple, Stupid), because not everyone is an expert in solar energy, I believe it is best to imagine the solar industry as a train, a big train, which is beautiful and shiny. And the government has helped to build this train by dumping millions of investment into building this big beautiful shiny train. The only thing is that the government did not invest in building the tracks. So when the train left the manufacturing plant it crashed and burned. It was destined for failure much like the shepherd in Hicks’ story. The role of government is not to build trains, but rather to build the tracks so that private industry can build the big beautiful shiny trains.
Solyndra’s failure and the failure of other manufacturers on our shores was not a failure of the solar industry, it was the failure of government to build the policy or political infrastructure to allow Solyndra and the solar industry to succeed. If the policy will reflect a position that allows investors to profit from the sale and resale of its true commodity (energy) then the trains will be built by private industry. Government needs only build the tracks.