Five Things You Should Know About Solyndra During The 2012 Campaign

One year ago today, the solar manufacturer Solyndra filed for bankruptcy after receiving a $527 million loan guarantee. The bankruptcy set off a political firestorm in Congress, and eventually worked its way into the presidential campaign.

Today, the Republican party is using Solyndra as a key tool in its campaign against Obama — smearing the entire clean energy industry in the process.

If you’ve been paying attention to the issue over the last year, you’ve likely heard the name “Solyndra” so many times it makes you nauseous. But most Americans are only now paying attention to the campaign, so it’s likely that many are hearing the name for the first time. If you’re wondering what the GOP claims on Solyndra are all about, here are some facts to put the issue in context:

1. The loan guarantee program supporting Solyndra has been a success

The loan guarantee program, which provides government backing of private loans for first-of-a-kind projects, was designed to help leverage capital for innovative renewable energy projects during the height of the financial crisis. And it worked. Since the program was enhanced through the stimulus package, it has supported the world’s largest wind farm, the first commercial cellulosic ethanol plant, some of the largest solar PV plants in the world, and the country’s largest concentrating solar power project — nearly 40 projects in all that helped keep 60,000 people employed during the economic downturn.

2. The Solyndra bankruptcy represented a small fraction of the overall program

The loan guarantee program came under fire after the bankruptcies of a few high-risk companies — most famously Solyndra — that received backing. But according to John McCain’s National Finance Chairman, Herb Allison, the overall cost to taxpayers will be $2 billion less than actually budgeted for. Backing up the findings of Herb Allison, the Congressional Research Office also concluded that the majority of loans were extremely low risk. In fact, over the last 20 years of experience, the U.S. government has shown a knack for managing risk — with loans and loan guarantee programs only costing tax payers 94 cents for every $100 dollars invested.

3. There is “no evidence” of political manipulation

Since Solyndra went bankrupt, House lawmakers have held 12 hearings and official meetings, acquired more than 300,000 documents, issued two subpenas, and likely spent more than a million dollars on the investigation. What have they found? “No evidence of wrongdoing,” reported Bloomberg Businessweek. And in a more detailed investigation, the Washington Post went further: “The records do not establish that anyone pressured the Energy Department to approve the Solyndra loan to benefit political contributors.”

And just last month, House GOP lawmakers issued a progress report on their investigation. As The Hill reported on the findings: “Republicans have not shown that the loan was granted as a result of political favoritism, despite repeated campaign-trail claims that the administration steered loans to Solyndra and other green-energy projects on the basis of political donations.”

4. Dozens of Republicans supported loan guarantees or similar programs

Since the Solyndra bankruptcy, many Republicans have scrambled to create a political scandal. However, a review of official documents and news reports over the years reveals that more than 60 Congressional Republicans — many of whom are critical of government support of renewables — have lobbied the Department of Energy for loan guarantees, grants, and other support for clean energy projects in their districts. In addition, Congressman Darrell Issa, one of the leaders of the House investigation into the Solyndra bankruptcy, strongly supported billions of dollars in loan guarantees for nuclear energy projects. However, when such tools are used for renewable energy, he labels it “picking winners and losers.”

5. Republicans have bluntly admitted the investigation is political

With multiple Congressional and journalistic investigations revealing no evidence of political manipulation, why does the GOP continue to spend so much time on the issue? One Republican, Representative Jim Jordan from Ohio, recently admitted that the plan was to keep Solyndra in the headlines throughout the election — no matter what the outcome: “Ultimately, we’ll stop it on Election Day, hopefully. And bringing attention to these things helps the voters and citizens of the country make the kind of decision that I hope helps them as they evaluate who they are going to vote for in November.”

A year after the Solyndra bankruptcy, we still haven’t found any evidence of political wrongdoing. But facts be dammed, the GOP is now using Solyndra as a central part of its national messaging strategy against Obama. So the next time you hear “Solyndra” in a debate or on the campaign trail, keep these facts in mind.


7 Responses to Five Things You Should Know About Solyndra During The 2012 Campaign

  1. Another key point: Private investors lost about $1B on Solyndra, so it wasn’t as if the government was the only one thinking this was a reasonable risk.

  2. Dennis Skelton says:

    6. The Loan originated under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and not the stimulus (though ARRA modified the program) the loan was applied for during Bush administration. Republicans held the House, Senate and White House when the Energy Policy Act was passed. And the Bushies tried to sneak it through in January 2009 immediately prior to Bush taking office.

    Considering how often Solyndra is trotted out to point out Democrats’ “failed stimulus” and Democrats’ “crony capitalism” in the stimulus, this should be FRONT AND CENTER. So scratch #6. NUMBER #1 thing you should know.

  3. Paul Klinkman says:

    6. The George W. Bush Administration tried its hardest to get the Sonyndra loan through on its own watch. They just missed the deadline, and the Obama administration put the loan through in March of 2009.

    7. China managed to kill off all of the U.S. solar panel manufacturers, not just Solyndra, through state-sponsored monopolistic tactics such as giving a $30 billion dollar interest free slush fund to their own manufacturers, with orders to drive the cost of solar panels down until all of the U.S. manufacturers bled themselves into bankruptcy. Congress and the President did nothing at all to defend this sector of U.S. industry beyond reading Chairman Mao’s little red book every night.

  4. Chris Winter says:

    It might be worthwhile to also point up the technical superiority of Solyndra’s products. In trying to pin down exactly what that was, I did a little research. What I’ve found so far hasn’t shown me clearly how they stood out from the crowd. But I did find something interesting.

    First, a clearly biased report from “Clean Technology Experts”:
    What Does the Solyndra Bankruptcy Really Tell Us?

    Second, a very illuminating report on a “competitive” test of Solyndra modules against some other forms of solar PV technology by the TEC_Institut of Germany, and a follow-up based on inputs from Solyndra and Gunther’s readers. Here, Edgar A. Gunther demonstrates a respect for the truth.
    Solyndra underperforms in Photovoltaic Module Test
    June 21, 2010 3:05 am | Edgar A. Gunther
    Solyndra refutes TEC-Institut Photovoltaic Module Test Report
    June 27, 2010 10:42 pm | Edgar A. Gunther

    Apologies if you’ve already seen these. I thought they might be useful.

  5. Pierre Bull says:

    re: Pt #4 … And as U.S. tax-payers we’re likely to be on the hook for keeping the zombie nuke plant alive in Congressmen Darrell Issa’s district.

  6. Photon says:

    Something which often gets missed is that Solyndra was not making a conventional product. They were making an innovative product which was fundamentally different from every other solar panel out there. From a technology standpoint, Solyndra modules were very clever, and offered compelling advantages over traditional flat-plat PV modules.

    Despite impressive reductions in their costs, the things still just cost too much to manufacture. They just couldn’t compete, especially with the jaw-dropping low prices coming out of China.

    When you go out and try and to do something that is different, innovative, and original, you can strike it rich. Or you can fail spectacularly. I think most people are understanding of the risks taken when you think outside the box.

  7. Paul Klinkman says:

    I have two suggestions to avoid the next ten Solyndras:

    First, create a firewall separating campaign contributions made by corporations and the payouts that governments hand them. Set up independent “judiciary” decision makers and make it a not easily revocable law. Stick by such commissions’ decisions when investing the government’s money. Bribers and crooks everywhere will howl at the inherent unfairness of this idea.

    Second, set much higher expectations of success every time the pot goes up by a factor of two. A $500 million gamble should be almost unthinkable unless the venture is a pretty certain slam dunk. $50,000 is a reasonable price for something that has only a 10% chance of working big.

    If the greedy can only get a limit of $50,000 back for all of their slush money expenditures, it’s hardly worth paying anyone off. Now, a $7 billion loan guarantee, that’s much different!