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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A Crisis in Leadership

You may have heard that the solar energy investment tax credit (ITC) is being caught up in legislative and party politics and many observers think they are doomed until a new Congress convenes in 2008.

Some $500 million in investment and production tax credits will expire Dec. 31 without the renewed ITC. Without the credit, many renewable energy projects, including two solar power plants that will generate about 800 megawatts of power, won’t be built. In fact, Navigant Consulting estimated that investments in wind and solar power in 2009 would amount to $26.6 billion with the credits, but would crash to $7 billion without them.

According to an AP article, Schott Solar plans to add 1,500 jobs and $500 million in investment are in large part dependent on the ITC. The Solar Energy Industries Association says some 20 utility-scale solar power plants are at risk because of the uncertainty in Congress.

Both Democrats and Republicans say they are in favor of the credits. By themselves, they are not controversial. Like a lot of issues—especially in our industry—good policies get caught up in partisan politics and the legislative meat grinder. The US Congress is so dysfunctional, they would prefer to hold the ITC hostage rather than yield an election advantage to the other side. They are unable move forward on good policies, they are unable to compromise, unable to govern. It’s something we see at SEMI every year, with every administration, for the past twenty years.

This kind of unconscionable legislative inaction is, in my opinion, part of a large crisis in leadership in the US. Every institution that made America great has devolved into self-interested obscurity, unwilling and unable to play a leadership role in society. Look at Wall Street: eight years after the dot com crash we have the mortgage meltdown and liquidity crisis, both events underscored by near universal, institutionalized, greed-fueled larceny. The financial industry sucks the best and brightest from the best universities into what is essentially a ponzi scheme, where fraudulent value is created and passed down a chain. What role is Wall Street playing today in the big questions of the day: deficits, taxes, human capital, industrial policy? They have no collective role. There is no Wall Street. It’s just individual companies with a self interest.

What about the military? Iraq. Afghanistan. Good job there, guys. Now, stay out of politics.

Education? What university president has a prominent voice on the issues of the day? Do teachers unions care about students?

How about the professions? Is the medical establishment really concerned about health care? Are any textbook journalistic practices relevant in big business media?

I’m just old enough to think that 30 years ago there was a prominent leadership class in all these institutions that was civic minded, independent and courageous. That generation could balance that needs of stockholders, employees and society at large. Everyone knew there was a "greater good" that needed nurturing and managing.

Today, I sense there no such balancing going on. It’s all about what's in it for me, my career and my company. That might be good for some of us, some of the time--but it’s horrific for all us, all of the time.

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