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Tough Love for Renewable Energy

Making Wind and Solar Power Affordable

Windmills turn in the breeze at Horns Rev 2, the world's largest wind farm, 19 miles off the west coast of Denmark near Esbjerg, September 15, 2009. Bob Strong / Reuters

Over the past decade, governments around the world threw money at renewable power. Private investors followed, hoping to cash in on what looked like an imminent epic shift in the way the world produced electricity. It all seemed intoxicating and revolutionary: a way to boost jobs, temper fossil-fuel prices, and curb global warming, while minting new fortunes in the process.

Much of that enthusiasm has now fizzled. Natural gas prices have plummeted in the United States, the result of technology that has unlocked vast supplies of a fuel that is cleaner than coal. The global recession has nudged global warming far down the political agenda and led cash-strapped countries to yank back renewable-energy subsidies. And some big government bets on renewable power have gone bad, most spectacularly the bet on Solyndra, the California solar-panel maker that received a $535 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy before going

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