Energy official who oversaw Solyndra grant leaving federal position

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A top Energy Department official who headed the office that awarded solar panel maker Solyndra LLC $535 million in loan guarantees is leaving the agency for a position at a Washington think tank, company officials confirmed Thursday.

Jonathan Silver, a former venture capitalist who insisted Solyndra was “headed in the right direction” months before the company went bankrupt and its offices were raided by the FBI, was chief of the Obama administration’s clean-energy loan program, which has come under fire since the company filed for bankruptcy in September.

Mr. Silver, who was not with the Energy Department in 2009 when the loan guarantees were awarded, was a strong supporter of the project. In public statements before Solyndra’s collapse, Mr. Silver seemed confident the company was going to succeed.

In April, he said Solyndra had sold hundreds of thousands of solar panels globally 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.”

Four months after the comments, Solyndra fired 1,000 employees, ceased operations, filed for bankruptcy, and saw its offices raided by the FBI. Its top two executives were brought before a congressional panel, but they invoked their Fifth Amendment right to refuse to testify.

Mr. Silver’s advocacy for Solyndra was described Tuesday by The Washington Times.

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican, and Oversight and Investigations subcommittee Chairman Rep. Cliff Stearns, Florida Republican, said the resignation “does not solve the problem.”

“We are in the midst of the Solyndra investigation and just days removed from Mr. Silvers mad rush to finalize the last $4.7 billion in loans before the statutory deadline,” they stated, adding that President Obama last week declared the loan guarantee program sound and that it was to be expected that one company like Solyndra could fail.

“But today the president changed his tune, stating, ‘The nature of these programs are going to be ones in which, you know, for every success there may be one that does not work out as well,’ ” they said. “Does the Obama administration now expect that half of these companies will fail?”

During a press conference at the White House Thursday, Mr. Obama defended his Energy Department’s handling of the loans, saying he strongly disagreed with a Republican congressman who said the U.S. “can’t compete with China” in the manufacture of solar panels.

“Well, you know what? I don’t buy that,” he said. “I’m not going to surrender to other countries technological leads that could end up determining whether or not we’re building a strong middle class in this country. And so … we’re going to have to keep on pushing hard to make sure that manufacturing’s located here, new businesses are located here and new technologies are developed here.”

Mr. Silver presided at the Energy Department over a $35 billion government investment — considered the largest ever — to commercialize clean-energy technologies. He reportedly is leaving his post to become a fellow at Third Way, which calls itself a think tank that “creates and advances moderate policy and political ideas.”

On its website, the group said it advocates for “private-sector economic growth, a tough and smart centrist security strategy, a clean energy revolution and progress on divisive social issues.”

In seeking to help Solyndra succeed, the Energy Department decided in early 2011 to help keep the company afloat with a restructuring and did so by allowing some of its investors to be repaid ahead of the government in the event of a liquidation.

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