- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Department of Energy pushed “very hard” for failed solar panel maker Solyndra LLC to delay announcing layoffs until after the Nov. 2, 2010, midterm elections, contradicting claims that politics played no role in the administration’s handling of the now-bankrupt company.

Newly released emails show staff at one of the major investors for Solyndra discussing how the Energy Department was being cooperative, but “they did push very hard for us to hold our announcement of the consolidation to employees and vendors to Nov. 3rd — oddly they didn’t give a reason for that date.”

However, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, in a memo released Tuesday, said emails produced by the major investor, Argonaut Private Equity, reference how the layoff announcement was postponed because of the Nov. 2 elections.

Solyndra was held up by the administration as a success story of the federal stimulus program after it won more than a half-billion dollars in federal loans in 2009, but the company filed for bankruptcy in September. Days later, the FBI raided the Solyndra’s headquarters in California to search for information about customer contracts.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has been investigating the company’s failed loan deal for most of the year, including exploring ties between Argonaut and the White House. Argonaut is the investment firm of Oklahoma businessman George Kaiser, a fundraiser for President Obama in 2008.

The White House has said the Energy Department’s decisions to award the loans to Solyndra and approve the restructuring were not based on political considerations.

“The Republican report cites internal email from Argonaut about the timing of a press release,” said Energy spokesman Damien LaVera. “But as the 180,000 pages of documents that the Department of Energy turned over to the committee indicate, the department’s decisions about this loan were made on the merits, based on extensive review by the experts in the loan program — and nothing in this Republican committee memo changes that.”

Still, Solyndra waited until a day after the midterm elections to announce the layoffs and the closure of one of its facilities. Despite the development, and Solyndra’s worsening finances, Energy Department officials continued to be publicly upbeat about the company’s prospects, according to the memo.

“The [Energy Department] also released a statement stating that ‘Solyndra now plans to double rather than triple production of solar panels by 2013, and construction for the company’s new facility is ahead of schedule,” the Republican memo released Tuesday noted. “The Secretary [Steven Chu] did not mention the financial problems then facing the company.”

The memo also details how Mr. Chu personally signed off on a restructuring deal early this year in hopes of helping Solyndra stay afloat by attracting new capital investment. But the plan put taxpayers behind new private investors in case of a default, which Republicans say is against the law.

Even after the restructuring, Solyndra’s financial troubles grew more dire. Despite the cash-flow problems, the memo said, Energy Department officials continued to make public statements touting the company’s prospects.

Less than two months before Solyndra went bankrupt, for instance, an Energy Department spokesman told a trade publication that “there are likely to be bumps in the road in the future. However, the Solyndra story is one of a company that continues to grow by bringing important new solar technologies to the market,” the memo said.

Republicans on the committee said the emails raise questions about whether the Energy Department should have flagged the company’s financial problems earlier.

Mr. Chu is scheduled to testify before Congress on Thursday, after the Energy and Commerce Committee voted along party lines to subpoena documents about the Solyndra loan from the White House. Republicans voted in favor of the subpoena, while Democrats opposed it.