Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?

Obama touts alternative energy despite Solyndra's demise

President avoids mentioning solar panel maker Solyndra's embarrassing collapse during his State of the Union address but nevertheless says it's time to "double down" on the idea.

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
2 min read
CBS News

Despite the spectacular collapse of solar panel maker Solyndra, which declared bankruptcy after receiving more than half a billion dollars from the Obama administration, President Obama said this evening that he doesn't want to give up on government-backed alternative energy projects.

The president used the opportunity of his State of the Union address to say it's time to "double down" on the concept but pointedly avoided mentioning Solyndra by name.

"The payoffs on these public investments don't always come right away," Obama said. "Some technologies don't pan out--some companies fail. But I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy."

Solyndra, which Obama personally touted as a success story in a 2010 visit to the company, became an embarrassment for the administration after its demise last fall. Subsequently released documents showed that politics infused the process, with major donors to Obama discussing the $528 million loan with the White House, and the loan taking place despite the project being rated as "junk" by Standard and Poor's.

The Washington Post reported last month that: "Since the failure of the company, Obama's entire $80 billion clean-technology program has begun to look like a political liability for an administration about to enter a bruising reelection campaign."

During tonight's address, at least, Obama urged Congress to continue to fund such projects, even if they're risky. "It's time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that's rarely been more profitable"--a swipe at the oil industry--"and double-down on a clean energy industry that's never been more promising," he said.

Obama's position won some support from Bill Gates, Microsoft's co-founder and former leader and now a philanthropist. "Completely agree that government support of low-carbon energy innovation is vital. America can and should lead the way," Gates tweeted after the speech.

In his speech, Obama also:

• Said that "it's not right when another country lets our movies, music, and software be pirated." That's not an endorsement of the Stop Online Piracy Act, which its supporters hope will address that point, but it's also not a criticism of it either.

• Suggested that "if you're a high-tech manufacturer, we should double the tax deduction you get for making products here."

• Proposed revamping the U.S. immigration system to make it easier for students who graduate American universities to stay. These graduates would "staff our labs" and "start new businesses."

• Offered a nod to a cybersecurity proposal that the White House sent to Congress last May. It's designed to force companies to do more to fend off cyberattacks.

UPdated 10:32 p.m. PT with comment from Bill Gates.