I'm in the midst of writing an article on how embattled CIGS solar manufacturer Solyndra has the chance to be the corporate comeback story of this decade. The firm is winning rooftop business all over the world, doubling production and halving its costs. This comes after a tour last week of Solyndra's Fab 2 and an interview with the CEO. That article is forthcoming -- stay tuned.
In the meantime, here's some breaking news.
Fred Upton (R-Michigan), House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman, has initiated an investigation into possible misuse of stimulus funds according to reports in The Hill. That would include the $535 million stimulus loan guarantee for Solyndra of Fremont, California.
Solyndra is just one of many energy and transportation companies that have received DOE loan guarantees including Solopower ($170 million), Brightsource Energy ($1.35 billion), Tesla Motors ($465 million), Abound Solar ($400 million), and Abengoa Solar ($1.45 billion). The loan guarantee program has already dispersed $26 billion to more than 30 wind, solar, geothermal and automotive projects.
The investigation is part of an effort by Republicans to probe the details of the stimulus funds to look for waste or fraud. The Hill quoted a GOP committee aide as saying, "We’ll be taking a close look at DOE as well as other stimulus funding within our jurisdiction."
The DOE loan guarantee website defines the loan guarantee as "a contractual obligation between the government, private creditors and a borrower -- such as banks and other commercial loan institutions -- that the Federal Government will cover the borrower’s debt obligation in the event that the borrower defaults. The Loan Programs allow the Federal Government to share some of the financial risks of projects that employ new technologies that are not yet supported in the commercial marketplace or where private investment has been inhibited."
Jonathan Silver, the Executive Director of the DOE's loan program office, has public sector as well as venture capital investment experience.
Congressman Upton, in a letter dated February 17 to DOE Secretary Steven Chu, noted Solyndra's lack of profits, layoffs, a recalled IPO and the firm's shutdown of Fab 1. The letter said that the travails at the high profile startup “raise questions about whether Solyndra was the right candidate to receive a loan guarantee in excess of half a billion dollars.”
Some of these corporate missteps are more than a year old and are par for the course in the world of innovation and technology startups. The nature of the probe might suggest a political agenda above and beyond pure fact-finding. The Heritage Foundation weighs in here. Fox News gives their fair and balanced take here.
Upton and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-Florida), have demanded all emails and documentation between Solyndra and DOE regarding the loan guarantee be furnished to the committee within two weeks. The letter is reprinted below.
Greentech Media has obtained the DOE-Solyndra loan guarantee term sheet through a Freedom of Information Act Request but the document is so highly redacted as to reveal little of value.