Just so you know, Solyndra was the dream of Chris Gronet, who received a Ph.D. in semiconductor processing at Stanford University, and had spent 11 years as an executive at Applied Materials Inc. He adopted as the company’s motto, “What we do here will someday change the world.” He was forced out in July, 2010.
In September, 2011, I posted an article about Solyndra, the government’s rush to back loans, its bankruptcy, and the beginning of the investigation into its activities. I now propose to update the investigation. However, my update may not be current since new revelations are uncovered literally daily.
Details of the Scandal
President Barack Obama is treating the entire Solyndra scandal as an irrelevant non-event, and is being (uncharacteristically for him) very silent about it. Records show that Obama was briefed about Solyndra and other “green” projects, indicating that he was specifically warned about the hazards of expediting the “green energy” loan program. Among those warning Obama were Larry Summers and Tim Geithner (see below), but he ignored their advice and green lighted the loans.
Obama Knew About Solyndra
Before Solyndra went bankrupt, President Obama was warned of risks of the Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantee program. At a meeting with Obama in late October, 2010, Lawrence H. Summers, Steven Chu, and Timothy F. Geithner expressed concerns that the selection process for federal loan guarantees wasn’t rigorous enough. Chu wanted less scrutiny from the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Still, the Obama administration went ahead with loan guarantee program as part of the 2009 stimulus law, despite disagreements on the program.
Administration officials took their opposing views to President Obama in October 2010. A memorandum, drafted by Lawrence Summers, explained different concerns and options to fix a “broken process” for getting loans approved. A July, 2010, report by the Government Accounting Office (GAO) found that DOE committed to back loans without completing required studies of market, legal, and technical issues.
White House e-mails show Obama aides discussing Solyndra’s finances and fears that the loan could be a political embarrassment. One e-mail suggested that DOE appeared “ill-equipped” to identify worthy “green” companies.
DOE Loan Guarantee Program Head Resigns
Jonathan Silver, head of DOE’s loan program announced on Thursday, October 6, 2011, that he was stepping down. DOE officials said that Silver decided to leave the job in July because funding for the loan guarantee program was expiring. Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee said that Silver’s resignation failed to address concerns that other troubled loans may be among 38 projects the program that he led has funded.
Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA) asked Silver why the government chose to invest in Solyndra’s “thin-film” solar-panel technology. Solyndra’s technology is one of the most complex and riskiest forms of solar technology. Silver dodged the question, then said, “I’m not a solar technical analyst.” Solyndra’s “thin-film” technology, said Bilbray, is rare and still in the early stages of development, making it a risky investment, but that fact didn’t stop DOE from putting taxpayer dollars at risk. Silver argued that the US needs to invest in solar energy in order to “keep up with China.” While China subsidizes its own solar industry, almost none of the Chinese funding of $30 billion per year goes to thin-film technology.
Solyndra Executives Plead Fifth Amendment
Solyndra CEO Brian Harrison and CFO W. G. Stover repeatedly refused to answer questions about Solyndra’s DOE loan guarantee, citing the US Constitution’s fifth amendment. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) asked, “I want to ask Mr. Harrison if he thinks the American people who invested over a half a billion dollars deserve to know what happened to that money?” Harrison and Stover declined to answer, invoking their Fifth Amendment rights. The CEO and CFO of bankrupt Solyndra sat before a Congressional committee and invoked their Fifth Amendment rights, rather than explain how they blew through $535 million in taxpayer money.
How Solyndra Spent Tax Money
Bilbray, while in his office, questioned Solyndra’s choice of land on which to build its new facility. The site chosen was one of the most expensive pieces of land in the country. Solyndra chose to build on 30 acres of farmland in Fremont, Calif., on a site that was classified by the EPA as a “non-attainment zone,” meaning that air quality did not meet certain federal standards. He also questioned Solyndra’s decision to build a brand-new manufacturing facility, citing the availability of several buildings in the area. The going rate for industrial properties in Silicon Valley, where Solyndra built, is the fourth-most expensive in the U.S.
The new factory that Solyndra built with public money had a conference room with glass walls that turned a smoky gray to conceal the room’s occupants. Hastily purchased state-of-the-art equipment ended up being sold for pennies on the dollar, still in its plastic wrap.
As Solyndra’s new $344 million factory went up near its leased plant in Fremont, CA, workers watched as pallets of unsold solar panels accumulated. Former Solyndra engineer Lindsey Eastburn said, “After we got the loan guarantee, they were just spending money left and right. Because we were doing well, nobody cared. Because of that infusion of money, it made people sloppy.” Putting some work on a 24-hour, seven-day schedule, the facility was up and ready for equipment installation in 10 months. The project employed more than 3,000 union construction workers.
When completed at an estimated cost of $733 million, Solyndra’s new facility covered 300,000 square feet, the equivalent of five football fields. It had robots that whistled Disney tunes, spa-like showers with liquid-crystal displays of water temperature, and glass-walled conference rooms. The facility had 19 loading docks, four electric car charging stations, and landscaping of wild grass and a rock garden. An automated rail system moved parts through the assembly process. Robots that resembled “a big freezer with wheels” maneuvered around the factory transporting panels from one machine to another. The Disney tunes alerted workers of the robots’ presence.
Tax-payer money wasted? It sure sounds like. And all at the alter of “green, renewable energy.” But this is what we have come to expect from the Obama administration.
But that’s just my opinion.