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Energy official praised Solyndra before FBI bust
Loans chief lauded ‘right direction’ of firm
A top Department of Energy official in charge of the office that awarded Solyndra LLC $535 million in loan guarantees insisted the company was “headed in the right direction” months before the firm went bankrupt and saw its offices raided by the FBI.
“This is a company that doubled their revenues and essentially doubled them again, year over year,” Jonathan Silver, Energy Department loans chief, said in an April 2011 interview with SNL Renewable Energy Weekly, a trade publication.
“They are going in the right direction.”
In fact, four months after the comments, Solyndra fired 1,000 employees, ceased operations, filed for bankruptcy, saw its offices raided by the FBI and its top two executives hauled before Congress, only to invoke their Fifth Amendment right to refuse to testify.
In public statements prior to Solyndra’s collapse, Mr. Silver seemed confident the company was going to succeed. During the same April 2011 interview, Mr. Silver, a venture capitalist before joining the Energy Department, said Solyndra had sold hundreds of thousands of solar panels around the world and that it “has been misunderstood by the popular press.”
“It’s not as if this is some kind of startup that is not working,” he said.
Mr. Silver, who was not with the Energy Department in 2009 when the loan guarantees were awarded, was not made available by the Energy Department for an interview for this article, in response to written questions about whether he was relying on financial information from Solyndra when he made the statements.
“As part of their review of loan applications and monitoring of the projects we support, career staff in the [Department of Energy] loan office review audited financial information provided by the companies under the penalty of law,” Energy Department spokesman Damien LaVera told The Washington Times in an email.
There’s no doubt Solyndra’s financial reporting is coming under sharp scrutiny these days after the FBI raided the company’s headquarters last month. What’s more, the Justice Department last week sought a trustee to oversee the company in bankruptcy, saying Solyndra executives haven’t been forthcoming when asked for information about its contracts with customers.
Yet while the company’s collapse last month seemed sudden, there were signs of trouble. In November 2010, for instance, Solyndra announced it was closing its older plant and laying off 135 temporary workers and 40 full-time staff. But Mr. Silver later said the so-called layoffs were misunderstood.
“The number of people that work at Solyndra today is 300 greater than before the project got under way,” he said in the April 2011 interview. “The plant that was closed … was a small, early prototyping plant, which was never intended to be a long-term facility.
“The rationale for doing some of these things got lost in the headlines,” Mr. Silver said. “People said, ‘People got laid off.’ Actually, they had a set of contract workers whose work was done.”
Solyndra thought so much of Mr. Silver’s comments that company executives included a quote from him in a three-page memo they sent in June 2011 to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which had opened an investigation into the $535 million loan-guarantee package that the Energy Department awarded to Solyndra in 2009.
The memo, titled “Exceeding Expectations: Solyndra Today,” gave a glowing portrait of the California solar company’s prospects. It noted that while Solyndra does not publicly release its quarterly financial results, the company was “on track for this year.
“In a highly competitive global marketplace, Solyndra continues to win large projects on commercial rooftops around the world, and we are confident on the merits of our differentiated, lightweight, simple to install cylindrical rooftop and greenhouse products,” the memo said.
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About the Author
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