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Steve Westly: Pretty good at predicting cleantech

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Solyndra's Factory

About two years ago we posted an article on greentech venture investor Steve Westly’s predictions on which cleantech companies would soon go public. He was surprisingly accurate and picked one company that did go public (Tesla (s TSLA)) and two companies that filed S-1’s, including Solyndra (which pulled its IPO) and Silver Spring Networks (which still hasn’t gone public yet). Now it looks like Westly has another, more ominous, prediction that’s come true: According to the New York Times, back in 2009 Westly cautioned the White House to avoid a visit to Solyndra because the company was potentially risky:

“I just want to help protect the president from anything that could result in negative or unfair press,” Steve Westly, a California venture capitalist and an Obama contributor, wrote in May 2010 to Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to the president. “If it’s too late to change/postpone the meeting, the president should be careful about unrealistic/optimistic forecasts that could haunt him in the next 18 months if Solyndra hits the wall, files for bankruptcy, etc.”

Westly, a democratic campaign contributor, sent that email the day before President Obama’s visit to Solyndra. I’m pointing this out, because the potential risks associated with Solyndra were somewhat obvious to many that follow the sector. I wrote this piece the day of Solyndra’s visit: Was the DOE Loan Guarantee for Solyndra a Mistake? And as Neal Dikeman wrote about Solyndra in this piece:

But seriously, raise your hand if you DIDN’T see this coming . . . This deal’s been close to a running joke among the cleantech cynics for a couple of years now.

Even one of the investors in the Solyndra deal, Brad Jones of Redpoint Ventures, didn’t think the loan guarantee to Solyndra was a good idea. According to the New York Times, Jones wrote in an email in December 2009 to White House official Larry Summers:

One of our solar companies with revenues of less than $100 million (and not yet profitable) received a government loan of $580 million . . . While that is good for us, I can’t imagine it’s a good way for the government to use taxpayer money . . . The allocation of spending to clean energy is haphazard; the government is just not well equipped to decide which companies should get the money and how much.