- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 8, 2011

FBI agents on Thursday executed search warrants at the California headquarters of Solyndra LLC, which was awarded more than $500 million in federal stimulus loans in 2009 to make solar panels in what the Obama administration called part of an aggressive effort to put more Americans to work and end U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

But the firm filed a bankruptcy petition Tuesday in Delaware, shedding more than 900 full-time employees and leaving just a “core group” of 113 employees, according to bankruptcy records.

FBI spokesman Peter D. Lee said multiple search warrants were served at the company’s Fremont headquarters in what he called a joint investigation by the FBI and the Energy Department’s office of inspector general. But he said he could not provide any details about the ongoing probe.

Energy spokeswoman Karen Sulier confirmed that the department was involved in the investigation but would not elaborate. Solyndra spokesman David Miller said the company was cooperating in the investigation but did not know the reason for the search.

News of the raid prompted key Republicans in Congress, who already were investigating the loan to the company, to issue a statement calling for answers from the company.

“There is much to learn as the investigation moves forward, and it is imperative that American taxpayers are not paying the price for the sins of Solyndra,” Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican, said in a joint statement with Rep. Cliff Stearns, Florida Republican.

Mr. Upton is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Mr. Stearns chairs of the oversight and investigations subcommittee.

They said they hoped to hear directly from Solyndra executives at a previously scheduled hearing next week on the company’s loan. Among those invited to testify is Solyndra’s president and chief executive, Brian Harrison.

“As our investigation continues, we hope to hear directly from Solyndra’s executives next week — the same executives who visited Capitol Hill as part of a PR campaign in July and misrepresented the company’s financial situation,” the lawmakers said. The raid provides the starkest example yet of how fast Solyndra has fallen after winning lucrative loans and widespread praise from top government officials.

A little more than a year ago, President Obama hailed Solyndra during a tour of the company, saying it expected to hire 1,000 workers and make enough panels over the lifetime of its planned expanded facility that it would be like replacing eight coal-fired power plants.

The company’s bankruptcy petition was filed two years after Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Vice President Joseph R. Biden announced approval of $535 million in federal loans to Solyndra under a green energy program touted by Mr. Obama.

Republicans have been looking into the Solyndra loan for several months and have subpoenaed documents concerning it from the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Mr. Stearns and Mr. Upton sent a letter last week to the White House seeking information about its role in the loans to Solyndra.

In the letter, Mr. Stearns and Mr. Upton said they have learned that Energy Department officials, as well as officials from the OMB, were aware of White House interest in the Solyndra loan deal. In addition, they said they were aware that a major investor in Solyndra, George Kaiser, was a bundler for Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign.

In a bankruptcy filing this week, W.G. Stover Jr., chief financial officer for Solyndra, blamed the company’s financial woes on “the combination of general business conditions and an oversupply of solar panels” that reduced prices worldwide. He cited the oversupply on expanding capacity by foreign solar panel manufacturers that “utilized low cost capital provided by their governments to expand operations.”

“In response, Solyndra was forced to reduce its average selling prices to remain competitive,” Mr. Stover explained in the 56-page court filing. In addition, he said the reduction or elimination of government subsidies and incentives to buy solar energy, particularly in Europe, also hurt demand for the company’s panels.

In a statement following news of the company’s bankruptcy, the Energy Department said that “changing economics have affected a number of solar manufacturers in recent months, including unfortunately, Solyndra.”

“This loan guarantee was pursued by both the Bush and Obama administrations,” said Dan Leistikow, director of public affairs for the Energy Department. “Private sector investors, who put more than $1 billion of their own money on the line, also saw great potential in the company.”

Reacting to news of the company’s layoffs last week, Jay Carney, White House press secretary, said there were more than 40 companies in the same loan program that funded Solyndra and “you cannot measure the success based on one company or the other.”

Last week, Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat and ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the bankruptcies of two U.S. solar companies in a month were “unfortunate warnings that the United States is in danger of losing its leadership position in the clean energy economy of the future.”

“We should be doing everything possible to ensure the United States does not cede the renewable energy market to China and other countries,” he said.

• Jim McElhatton can be reached at jmcelhatton@washingtontimes.com.

• Jerry Seper can be reached at jseper@washingtontimes.com.

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