The ongoing investigations into the email exchanges among now-defunct solar maker Solyndra, Department of Energy officials and the White House continue. And according to an article in the New York Times this weekend, which dug through the emails, there’s an unusual thread connecting Solyndra’s law firm and a DOE official that pushed for the Solyndra loan: a married couple.
That would be Steven Spinner, who was a senior member of the DOE’s loan guarantee oversight office, and his wife, Allison Spinner, a partner at one of Silicon Valley’s leading law firms, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, which represented Solyndra. While Mr. Spinner was supposed to recuse himself from working on the loan application, the New York Times uncovered a series of email exchanges from Mr. Spinner urging the White House budget office to approve the loan guarantee more quickly. Mr. Spinner also communicated with Solyndra execs about the status of the loan.
The Times article also says that David Prend, a co-founder of Rockport Capital, which was an investor in Solyndra, met with the White House’s Carol Browner in late Feb. 2009 and that they discussed the pending loan application. The meeting took place a few days before the $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra was conditionally granted in March 2009. The loan guarantee and loan was finalized in Sept. 2009.
Last week the official in charge of the DOE’s loan program, Jonathan Silver, stepped down, though the DOE said that Silver had decided in July of this year that he would not remain in the position, as no substantial new funds had been allocated for the loan program. Silver joined the DOE in Nov. 2009, after the Solyndra loan had been finalized, and oversaw the allocation of the loan funds and the later restructuring of the loan to Solyndra.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee has scheduled yet another hearing on the Solyndra loan guarantee for this upcoming Friday. This will be the third hearing on the topic. At the second hearing, Solyndra’s CEO and CFO pled the fifth and refused to answer questions from the committee. At the first hearing House Republicans grilled Silver and suggested that a restructuring of Solyndra’s loan, which gave private investors senior debt that would be paid back before the government, was illegal.
The bankruptcy of Solyndra and the loss of most of the $527 million loan have a cast a shadow over the cleantech industry, at a time when the U.S. government will likely allocate less support for clean power in the near future. Some of the venture capital community has also moved away from investing in cleantech.
Images of Steve Spinner courtesy of Center for American Progress. Image of Solyndra’s factory ground breaking in Sept. 2009 courtesy of GigaOM.