Murkowski: Don't ‘pull the plug’ on energy loans after Solyndra

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), the top Republican on the Senate’s Energy Committee, is fearful that the controversy over the collapse of the solar company Solyndra could bring down the Energy Department's clean-energy loan guarantee program.

“I am concerned about where we are with the loan guarantee program right now, and that there may be an effort to just kind of pull the plug out from underneath all of it. I don’t want to see that happen,” Murkowski said Wednesday at a forum hosted by The Atlantic magazine.

Murkowski has been critical of the Obama administration’s $535 million loan guarantee for the California solar panel company, which collapsed in late August and filed for bankruptcy a week later.

Like other critics of the financing, she has attacked the early 2011 restructuring of the 2009 Solyndra loan guarantee that put private investors first in line for repayment if the struggling company were to liquidate.

Some House Republicans probing the Solyndra loan guarantee have more broadly attacked federal green-energy financing, arguing that the federal government should not be “picking winners and losers.”

But Murkowski, who called Solyndra a “horrible failure,” defended federal loan guarantees.

“The loan guarantee program is something that I supported and I still support the loan guarantees and a federal role, to a certain extent, when we are trying to build out and help accommodate ... different industries, whether it is in nuclear or whether it is in the area of renewables,” Murkowski said.

“I want to make sure that in this rush to condemn what has gone on following Solyndra — the fact that the taxpayers are losing half a billion dollars here, something that really upsets me — I want to make sure that we don’t have this happen again, but I also want to make sure that we also have a loan guarantee program that works,” she said.

Murkowski has been pressing for a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the loan guarantee program, which was created in a 2005 energy law and temporarily expanded through the 2009 stimulus law. She said Wednesday that there’s a need to ensure the right “standards and protocols” are in place.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) is planning a broader hearing in coming weeks on federal clean-energy technology investments.