Eric Bolling gets his cleantech facts very wrong

Apr 02, 2014

Dan Primack was a senior editor at Fortune from 2010 to 2016. He was also the author of Term Sheet, Fortune's daily newsletter about deals and dealmakers.

FORTUNE -- During an O'Reilly Factor conversation last night about Tesla Motors (tsla), guest Eric Bolling made two demonstrably untrue statements about the cleantech industry within the span of just 15 seconds. Even by the loose standards of cable news punditry, this was a galling disregard for basic facts.

What follows is the relevant part of the conversation between Bolling and host Bill O'Reilly:

Bolling: The reason Solyndra didn't work is because they couldn't get the price down to where homeowners could afford to put them on their roof.

O'Reilly: That's true

Bolling: And guess what, we lost $500 million in Solyndra.

O'Reilly: But in Tesla we're not losing because they paid the money back.

Bolling: We got lucky on one Bill, but for every Tesla there are four Solyndras...

For starters, Solyndra didn't fail because homeowners couldn't afford to put its solar panels on their roofs. How do I know? Because Solyndra was building solar panels for commercial buildings, not residential ones.

Second, Bolling is very wrong about the winners vs. losers breakdown of companies that received loan guarantees from the U.S. Department of Energy. Of the 31 programs that received such loan guarantees, only four have gone the way of Solyndra (i.e., failed completely and been shut down). Moreover, as of last check, the overall program is on track to turn an overall profit (inclusive of the Solyndra losses).

Finally, Bolling also later suggested that Tesla -- and other companies in the DoE loan program -- borrowed from the government instead of raising private capital:

Are you going to tell me that all those smart guys on Wall Street, with tens of billion of dollars to loan, wouldn't see Tesla and say, 'You know what we'll loan you that money, instead of the government..."

This isn't really accurate, since the government loan guarantees were conditioned on the recipient having also raised substantial funds from the private sector (often in the form of equity, which is higher risk than debt). Tesla, for example, raised more than $270 million in private funding -- including from Wall Street stalwart J.P. Morgan (jpm). So, yes, those "smart guys on Wall Street" (and in Silicon Valley) did take a big chance on Tesla. And in Solyndra for that matter (so much for the idea that they're always so much smarter than the government guys).

I'd like to blame all of this misinformation on some young intern, but Bolling insists that he alone is responsible for his own research:

Perhaps it's time to hire some help...

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