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GOP’s Solyndra Witch-Hunt Halts Project to Employ Veterans Putting Solar Panels on Military Housing

By Stephen Lacey on September 28, 2011 at 3:25 pm

"GOP’s Solyndra Witch-Hunt Halts Project to Employ Veterans Putting Solar Panels on Military Housing"

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The GOP has apparently succeeded in its goal of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

The push to do something — anything — to make government investments in clean energy look bad after the Solyndra bankruptcy is hindering the development of some major job-creating solar projects.

The most recent victim is SolarCity, a solar-services provider that was set to develop the largest residential solar project in the world. The company was offered a conditional commitment on September 2nd for a $275 million loan guarantee to finance, install and maintain solar systems on 160,000 military rooftops around the country — effectively doubling the number of residential systems online in the U.S. today.

The project would bring “more than $1 billion of private investment into economically hard-hit military communities,” according to SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive.

SolarCity has said it would work to employ American veterans and family members for the 750 people needed to complete the project, showing that green jobs do indeed exist. The company has seen extraordinary growth in recent years. After starting in 2006 with just two people, SolarCity has added over 600 employees since 2006. And this latest project will again double the staff.

The conditional commitment for the so-called SolarStrong project was issued days after the Solyndra bankruptcy. It was a piece of good news after a drumbeat of bad developments in the weekend after the Solyndra story broke. Since then, however, the resulting investigation has added a slew of new documentation requirements, making it impossible for SolarCity to meet the deadlines imposed.

In a letter sent last week to three men responsible for the investigation — Republican Congressmen Cliff Stearns, Ed Whitfield and Fred Upton —SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive lamented the last-minute changes in document requirements:

Unfortunately, Project SolarStrong, together with the thousands of job years it would create and the benefits it would bring to our country’s military communities, is at risk of becoming an unintended casualty of the controversy over Solyndra.

Rive makes clear in the letter that he supports additional Congressional oversight of the loan guarantee program. Indeed, everyone — even those who passionately support the loan guarantee program — agrees that additional oversight is needed after the Solyndra bankruptcy. But onerous requirements thrown on projects in late stages of development are hurting private investment and job creation:

Project SolarStrong’s structuring and its review by the DOE has required the efforts of more than 100 people, thousands of hours of work, and more than $3 million of investment by our company and our financing partners over the last eleven months. Halting the project will mean sacrificing more than $1 billion of private investment into economically hard-hit military communities throughout the United States.

It would also mean the loss of jobs we believe the project would create, many of which would have gone to veterans and the family members of our active duty military servicemen and women. We believe that the valuable work done to move the SolarStrong project to completion should not be lost because of the Solyndra bankruptcy.

With all the talk about burdensome regulations and government over-reach, this incident is particularly ironic.

The SolarStrong project is nothing like Solyndra. Solarcity has a proven business model and has been able to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in private capital for other previous projects. It also uses technologies that are cost-competitive and trustworthy. It’s a completely different beast.

If that’s the case, why would they need a loan guarantee? Well, the loan guarantee would help SolarCity finance projects in states it otherwise couldn’t without the backing. The program allows the company to spread projects further around the U.S., thus spreading economic development and job creation.

This is a fairly low-risk project. But it’s ambitious enough to need some backing in order to raise additional private capital. That’s what the loan guarantee is for.

We have the potential to double residential solar PV installations in this country in a few short years while putting hundreds of military personnel to work. It would be a shame to allow this project become collateral damage of political over-reach.

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11 Responses to GOP’s Solyndra Witch-Hunt Halts Project to Employ Veterans Putting Solar Panels on Military Housing

  1. SecularAnimist says:

    Stephen Lacey wrote: “The GOP has apparently succeeded in its goal of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

    Let’s be very clear: the goal of the GOP is precisely to destroy the US solar power industry, to destroy the US wind power industry, to destroy the US electric vehicle industry, to destroy energy efficiency initiatives, to destroy green jobs initiatives, and to destroy the EPA — in short, to destroy anything and everything that threatens the profits of the fossil fuel corporations or loosens the death-grip of the fossil fuel corporations on the US economy and political system.

    SolarCity isn’t “collateral damage” of the attacks on the Solyndra loan guarantee — it is the next target, exactly because it is so successful.

    • Leif says:

      Right on Secular Animist!

    • Rakesh Malik says:

      SecularAnimist, you are completely correct. The GOP in its short-sighted greed will destroy anything it can to preserve its oil-derived bribery stream, even though supporting clean energy would be a wise investment for the oil companies, who are also so stupid that they’d rather destroy the world to drill for more oil than invest in preserving their future.

      We are no homo sapiens, we are nothing more than algae with machines.

      “We have the people, the truth, and the need to survive on our side. We should win. The question is when.”

      No, the question is how we will win, and how many people we’ll end up sacrificing to greed and stupidity first… because the truth is that the business as usual model of self-destruction is actually a way to save the world… by destroying us. The world will recover from business as usua; it’s recovered from worse than us before. It’s us that won’t recover from it.

      So the question is, will we follow the illustrious example of yeast in grape juice, or live up to the name of homo sapiens and show some wisdom?

      Our current trend shows that we will follow the example of yeast.

    • I’m mystified (and disgusted) by the substantial number of people who are completely misinformed or uninformed about the nature of start-up companies in general, about the important role the U.S. Government plays in funding development of lucrative new technologies, solar energy in particular, yet so naively willing to misinform others about the solar industry, or to defend or promote oil, gas, and coal as energy sources.

      It’s almost as though many people harbor a perverse death wish for the U.S. economy; a perverse desire for living in a dirty, polluted world, filled with the toxic excrement of petroleum combustion byproducts; and a self-destructive rejection of the need to plan for the future.

      World oil reserves are sufficient for only 25 – 50 years, depending on the forecast model, and that assumes no exponential increase in demand by newly industrialized countries.

      Planning now for humanity’s future global high-demand energy needs is necessary. Period!

      Why are certain reporters so eager to undermine clean energy by gullibly reporting destructive Republican disinformation? Why aren’t editorials and blogs brimming with future possibilities for developing new mineral and energy sources? And filled with brainstorming about ideas to make it happen?

      Why aren’t oil, coal and gas corporation executives looking to the future and jumping at today’s opportunities to diversify into new energy sources to assure long-term profitability?

      What is the matter with people who can’t see beyond using soon-to-be depleted archaic, dirty, inefficient, and expensive oil, coal and gas technology to generate energy?

      And what is the matter with people who expect instant success with no initial failures to develop green energy sources? Do they not know that it takes time to develop and perfect new, complex technologies? For example, it took over 50 years to develop the technology to drill for oil and even more time to develop large-scale refining technology; same for automobile technology; same for rocket and space technology; and same for computer technology.

      R&D of new technology often involves 90% failure, before achieving initial success; and then refining the technology can take years or decades (electronic computer technology has taken over 60 years to refine it to what we have today, for example).

      As they say, “no pain, no gain”

  2. Nahant says:

    We have been a Solar City customer since 2009 and we couldn’t be happier saving money on our electric bills. They have been great!
    Secular Animist I don’t think I could say it any better! The GOP want to destroy any thing that would interfere with the money flowing from the Big Energy Companies who only want to fleece the American consumer of every penny until it all runs out!

  3. John Tucker says:

    Celebrating Solyndraś demise is ridiculous. The US invented the solar cell. This is our technology.

    The Solyndra technology did not require ultra clean high energy polysilicon manufacturing. It had implications in issues of direction/pitch as well as those involving cooling and ventilation in extreme conditions.

    This could have led to quicker development in solar applications for partially shaded ares/combined horticulture – aquaculture issues/solar for environmentally sensitive areas as well as stated technical solutions for niche markets.

    But we dont have that now.

    • SecularAnimist says:

      I have not heard much about what will become of Solyndra’s innovative technology, which was actually really great stuff for all the reasons John Tucker mentions. Hopefully someone else will acquire it and figure out how to make a profit from it.

    • As a practical optimist, let’s remember that Solyndra only filed Chapter 11, which protects a business entity from its creditors, so that it can focus its financial resources on turning the business around. Solyndra hasn’t failed yet.

      I’ve served as a CEO–20 years total–for two software businesses. I’m also an entrepreneurial technologist, with a background in E.E. and Mathematics, and quite knowledgeable about Solar heating, greenhouses, and photovoltaics.

      Imo, Solyndra’s problem, at the risk of over simplifying, due to being on the outside looking in, was caused, not by heavy Chinese government subsidies of Solar technology artificially driving down price per Watt, but by:
      – lack of strategic market development planning,
      – premature development of a horizontal market,
      – attempting to grow too fast,
      – not leveraging their technology barrier (which Solyndra does have and the Chinese can’t compete with for now, at any price),
      – too little dependency on creative thinking swamped by too much dependency on V.C.,
      – too little sweat equity for key employees and officers, and,
      – apparently, no corporate partners with vested profit interests.

      Solyndra’s automated manufacturing and testing capability is advanced (and let’s hope THAT is not given away or sold to our international competitors).

      I _know_ Solyndra’s technology is hot (but not for long), and I’d love to have the opportunity to turn Solyndra around :-)

  4. MarkfromLexington says:

    Here’s what Washington politicians would have us believe.

    We loaned money to a solar technology company that failed.
    Therefore we shouldn’t loan money to a solar finance company.

    Because obviously if one solar technology company failed, the whole industry is going to fail.

  5. Danl says:

    There’s that market stability the Republicans screamed at Dems about only a few short months ago.

    Jobs programs? Veteran’s programs? Why not combine them into one so the Republicans can kill them both with one stone?

  6. Mike Roddy says:

    We have the people, the truth, and the need to survive on our side. We should win. The question is when.