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.