FBI agents on Thursday raided the now-bankrupt California solar company Solyndra as part of a joint investigation with the Energy Department. Neither agency would comment on the nature of the probe, but House Republicans have requested White House documents on federal guaranteed loans to the solar startup, which once was cited by President Obama as an example of how renewable energy could create jobs.
The maker of solar photovoltaic systems shuttered its operations and laid off 1,100 employees on Aug. 31, citing “global economic and solar-industry market conditions.” The announcement reinvigorated Republican scrutiny of the renewable energy sector and federal subsidies promoted by the administration.
Alicia Sensibaugh, spokeswoman for the FBI’s San Francisco office, told National Journal that the FBI served multiple search warrants at Solyndra's Fremont, Calif., headquarters on Thursday. Karen Sulier, a spokeswoman for the Energy Department’s inspector general, confirmed that special agents from that office also were present at the search.
Solyndra’s was the third bankruptcy among U.S. solar companies in a matter of weeks. But it had been a poster child for the nascent solar industry. In May 2009 the Energy Department awarded the startup a $535 million loan guarantee, and Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu all visited the company to tout renewable energy’s potential—and its potential to generate jobs. Some Republicans have questioned the federal loan guarantees, in part because Solyndra also got significant private investments from a fundraiser for Obama.
Results of the FBI-Energy Department investigation and Thursday's raid could drive the Sept. 14 House Energy and Commerce hearing on Solyndra's loan guarantee. The panel's top Democrats on Thursday asked Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, to invite Solyndra CEO and President Brian Harrison to testify at the hearing.
“Less than two months ago, Mr. Harrison met with us and other committee members to assure us that Solyndra was in a strong financial position and in no danger of failing,” Energy and Commerce ranking member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Investigations Subcommittee ranking member Diana DeGette, D-Colo., wrote Stearns. "These assurances appear to contrast starkly with his company’s decision to file for bankruptcy last week.”
Witnesses invited to the Sept. 14 hearing include Harrison; W.G. "Bill" Stover, Solyndra's chief financial officer; Jonathan Silver, director of the Energy Department's loans programs; and Jeffrey Zients, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, Energy and Commerce spokeswoman Charlotte Baker said on Thursday.
In July, Republicans on the House Energy Oversight and Investigations subcommittee voted to subpoena Office of Management and Budget documents relating to the $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra—$527 million of which the company had already received. And last week, Stearns and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., wrote White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler seeking "all documents containing communications relating to the $535 million loan guarantee" between the White House and Solyndra, and between the White House and "investors in Solyndra.”