Bill Gates' campaign to rehabilitate his public image in the wake of his divorce from ex-wife Melinda French formally began earlier this month when Gates sat for a softball interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper. It continued Thursday with another interview (this time with the conservative-leaning WSJ) where the Microsoft founder pledged to invest $1.5 billion in a series of public-private partnerships set up to develop new green technologies, like devices that suck carbon out of the atmosphere, or emissions-free jet fuel.
The statement was clearly timed to coincide with the Senate's passage of the "compromise" infrastructure bill, which, if passed by the House, would dedicate $25 billion to the Department of Energy for the development of new technologies and prototypes to help fight climate change, part of $100 billion in climate change-fighting funds tucked into the bill.
Gates explained to WSJ that the money would be provided over a period of three years by a fund Gates has named "Breakthrough Energy". These "Breakthrough" projects will focus on finding market-based solutions to climate change. To be sure, Gates' grants will need to compete for the matching DoE funds with other private sources (but considering Gates's vast connections in Washington, we will be shocked if the matching funds aren't approved)
He also seized the opportunity to praise the Dems for their dedication to fighting climate change, while also spouting boilerplate language about being "dedicated" to the cause.
Breakthrough will likely shift funding for the biggest projects to Europe and Asia instead if the package doesn’t become law, he added.
"Critical for all these climate technologies is to get the costs down and to be able to scale them up to a pretty gigantic level," Mr. Gates said. "You’ll never get that scale up unless the government’s coming in with the right policies, and the right policy is exactly what’s in that infrastructure bill."
Gates also insisted that these "demonstration projects" are critical to making new technologies work.
The interview featured a subtle threat: if Congress doesn't approve the infrastructure package (with the climate funding attached), Gates will take his "Breakthrough" funding elsewhere, likely to Europe and Asia.
While Gates is doing everything he can to promote the public-private partnership plan included in the Infrastructure Bill, this approach to clean-energy technology has backfired before. The best-known example is probably the collapse of Solyndra, a solar panel maker that received $500MM+ in public funds from the Obama Administration via the post-crisis recovery bill passed in 2009. The company declared bankruptcy in 2011, laying off hundreds of workers, and leaving the Democrats' with an embarrassing black eye.
Can an investment from Bill Gates guarantee that this won't happen again?