House committee to subpoena OMB over Solyndra documents


The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a resolution on Thursday to move forward with a subpoena for the Office of Management and Budget to get access to documents about the Department of Energy’s $535 million loan guarantee to solar maker Solyndra. The OMB provided 1,400 pages of emails and documents about the Solyndra loan guarantee to the committee earlier this week, but committee Republicans were dissatisfied with not receiving more information.

The committee Republicans started the investigation process into the Solyndra loan guarantee in March of this year. Solyndra, which makes thin-film solar panels in an unusual tube form factor, was the first company to receive a loan guarantee via the program that was re-ignited via the Obama administration’s stimulus package.

But Solyndra ended up shuttering its first plant, laid off workers, and pulled its IPO plans. These moves raised questions about its ability to execute the plan it had crafted to expand manufacturing, create new jobs, make money to pay back the loan. (See my articles from 2010: Was the DOE Loan Guarantee for Solyndra a Mistake? and Solyndra Spells Disaster for DOE Loan Guarantee Program.)

Now Solyndra says it has completed its factory and is producing nearly 2 MW a week in solar panels, and will triple that over time. Production costs have fallen to less than $2.50 per watt, Ben Bierman, Solyndra’s EVP of operations and engineering, told us in an interview earlier this year.

During the hearing on Thursday, the larger question was over whether the Republican’s broad request for documents was a “fishing expedition,” as Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) called it. Waxman, who voted “nay” on the resolution to subpoena, asserted that if the request for information was more specific than he thought it would be honored. A subpoena should also be based on evidence that something inappropriate is going on, said Waxman, instead of a broad sweep that could jeopardize the future loan guarantee process.

Joe Barton (R-Texas), who voted “aye,” shot back that the request was not a fishing expedition, but a timely move to get information from the OMB, which is not cooperating. “At what time does the committee exercise its rights under the Constitution to get the information,” said Barton. You get the documents and then you decide if there is an impropriety, said Barton in response to Waxman.

The vote delivered 14 ayes and 8 nays, leading to a pass of the resolution.

Preempting the hearing, Solyndra issued a statement that noted some financial and production milestones, including that Solyndra has shipped 100 MW worth of solar panels. Solyndra says its revenues for 2010 were $140 million, and that its revenues are projected to double in 2011.

To note, Solyndra has not only received DOE support, but also raised around a billion in private equity.

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