Celina Kareiva, KING 5's research assistant, offers this background on the energy issue, SunPower and "picking winners."
In the Oct. 11 debate, McKenna questioned Inslee’s ethics, suggesting Inslee is guilty of cronyism for boosting the alternative energy industry in Congress while also investing in a solar company – a company that he featured in a 2007 book he co-authored with Bracken Hendricks.
Inslee’s book, Apollo’s Fire, features the California company SunPower as an example of the potential of alternative energy to reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuels. The book celebrates SunPower and companies like it as examples of how innovation can boost job creation in the U.S. and edge the country toward greater energy self-sufficiency.
Inslee voted for the economic stimulus plan passed by Congress in early 2009. That plan poured $60 billion into grants and other aid for alternative and clean energy, including environmental programs and some research.
On the same day Inslee and McKenna debated – Oct. 11 – the Associated Press reported that Inslee had invested in SunPower at the same time that he was writing about the company and advocating for policies in Congress that would benefit alternative energy firms.
Financial disclosure reports show that Inslee owned SunPower stock valued at more than $15,000 in 2007. His personal financial diclosure show that he owned SunPower shares valued between $4,000 and $20,000 as of last year.
Inslee told the AP that he didn’t remember why he invested in SunPower and said he didn’t see a conflict of interest in his actions.
Inslee told AP, "You can't avoid conflicts of interest without being penniless."
"In fact, all you have to do is to be ethical to avoid conflicts of interest," retorted McKenna at the Oct. 11 debate.
McKenna believes Inslee’s job plan aims to pick winners and losers by favoring clean tech industries over others. The argument echoes criticisms of the Obama administration and the case of Solyndra, a California clean energy firm that received $527 million from the government in the first year of the Obama administration, only to declare bankruptcy two years later in August 2011. Solyndra’s executives were major donors to Obama’s 2008 campaign, leading to charges of cronyism from Republicans in Congress. Other critics said governments are very bad at deciding which industries to support and that the free market is better able to reward truly innovative and cost-effective companies.
As for SunPower, the publicly traded company once boasted a stock price of $133, but the price currently trades around $5.
Dismissing SunPower’s experience, Inslee said the focus should be on the performance of the overall clean energy sector, not a single company.