Top Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday asked the White House to turn over all documents relating to more than $500 million in federal guaranteed loans to the California solar-energy company that halted operations this week.
Solyndra, which in 2009 became the first company to receive a federal clean-energy loan guarantee as part of the stimulus package, shuttered operations on Wednesday, laying off its 1,100 workers while saying it planned to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The Fremont, Calif.-based maker of solar photovoltaic systems cited “global economic and solar-industry market conditions.”
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. Some Republicans have questioned the loan guarantee because the company also had significant private investments from a fundraiser for President Obama.
On Thursday, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., chairman of its Subcommittee on Oversights and Investigations, 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."
“The bankruptcy of Solyndra underscores the need for vigilant oversight and I urge the White House to cooperate with the investigation into how these loans were structured, reviewed, and approved,” Stearns said in a statement. “Solyndra represented the first step in the Obama administration’s $60 billion loan-guarantee program, which promised to create thousands of new jobs. Now, with the collapse of Solyndra, we see 1,100 employees out of work and taxpayers out of $535 million, most likely. In addition, we are concerned that during the restructuring of the loan, hedge-fund investors were placed ahead of taxpayers in case of the firm’s failure.”
On Wednesday, the White House expressed disappointment in Solyndra’s bankruptcy announcement, but said, “We continue to believe the clean-energy jobs race is one that America can, must, and will win.... The Department of Energy’s overall portfolio of investments—which includes dozens of other companies—continues to perform well and is on pace to create thousands of jobs.”
Solyndra’s fall comes after the Aug. 15 announcement of bankruptcy by the Massachusetts solar-wafer maker Evergreen Solar, and the Aug. 19 bankruptcy of the New York solar manufacturer SpectraWatt. All three companies faced strong competition from places like China, where aggressive federal subsidies and clean-tech mandates have driven the price of solar-energy products down 42 percent.
“They’re basically, unfortunately, the casualties of the free-market system,” Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said on Thursday, noting that the price of solar energy has fallen by 70 percent over the last three years. While international competition is increasing, Resch said the United States remains a net exporter of solar equipment.
"Although there’s a bad-news story here ... the good-news story is that solar is much, much cheaper for the end user and this is a natural evolution for our industry,” Resch said.
On Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney defended government assistance in establishing “a beachhead in the vital industries that will allow America to compete in the future.... There are no guarantees in the business world about success and failure.”