Obama administration mulled Solyndra bailout days before company's demise

As California solar panel maker Solyndra teetered on the brink of financial collapse, Obama administration officials weighed and rejected a last-ditch plan to keep the company afloat.

Under the August plan, which was outlined in nearly 1,200 pages of documents the Obama administration released Wednesday evening, private investors would have put about $100 million into Solyndra, the company that received a $535 million loan guarantee in 2009.

Meanwhile, the Energy Department would have agreed to convert some of Solyndra’s debt to the federal government into a partial stake in the company. The agreement would have also authorized the Energy Department to appoint two independent directors to Solyndra’s board.


But the Obama administration ultimately rejected the plan presented by the financial advisory company Lazard, which the Energy Department had hired to review Solyndra's options.

Solyndra ceased operations in late August and filed for bankruptcy in early September after laying off 1,100 workers. The company’s collapse has set off a firestorm in Washington, with Republicans raising questions about the Obama administration’s investments in green technology.

The Obama administration had already restructured the Solyndra loan guarantee in February as the company faced financial troubles. Under that agreement, private investors who agreed to put $75 million in the company would be repaid before the taxpayer if the company collapsed. 

The Obama administration sent the documents, which The Hill obtained from a government source, to the House Energy and Commerce Committee Wednesday night. The committee’s investigative panel is slated to approve Thursday a subpoena to the White House for its internal communications related to the Solyndra loan guarantee.

Republicans on the panel scheduled the Thursday subpoena vote after the White House rejected their request for all internal White House Solyndra documents.

The White House, its Office of Management and Budget, the Treasury Department and the Energy Department have now provided more than 80,000 pages of documents to Republicans in recent months. 

White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, in a letter to the committee last month, said the documents that have already been provided by the administration “should satisfy the committee’s stated objective.”

“Your most recent request for internal White House communications from the first day of the current administration to the present implicates longstanding and institutional executive-branch confidentiality interests,” she said.

Republicans and Democrats on the committee met Wednesday in an effort to come to an agreement on the document request. But Republicans said the meeting did not convince them to cancel the subpoena vote.

But Democrats on the panel called on Republicans to cancel Thursday’s vote, arguing that the White House and the committee made progress at the meeting.

“We believe that discussions today between the White House and the Committee have resulted in substantial progress towards reaching an accommodation that will advance the Committee’s efforts to obtain information relevant to the investigation of the Department of Energy loan to Solyndra,” Committee ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and investigative subcommittee ranking member Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) wrote in the letter.

“In light of this turn of events, a Committee vote on subpoenas to the White House at this juncture would be a precipitous and irresponsible exercise of the Committee’s powers.”

The emails released Wednesday again highlight the extent to which, as Solyndra faced financial problems, senior Obama administration officials were sensitive to the repercussions if the company failed.

The Obama administration was heavily invested in Solyndra's success. President Obama visited the company, the first to receive an Energy Department loan guarantee, in May of 2010 to tout federal efforts to spur a green economy.

The emails include a Nov. 3, 2010 message from White House Office of Management and Budget Communications official Kenneth Baer to several senior White House aides. The message with the subject line “more loan guarantee news” included the text of a news account – titled “Solyndra spells disaster for DOE Loan Guarantee Program” – that was pessimistic about the company’s prospects.

White House energy aide Heather Zichal forwarded the message to Rod O’Connor, who was then Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s chief of staff. O’Connor replied “Great day all around. Want to kill someone.”

Zichal replied minutes later: “You are not alone.”