Saturday, September 24, 2011

Solar Panel Bust!

This has been going on for a little while now.  There is a lot of finger pointing over this one, so it is a little hard to get to the bottom of this one.  Then I had to go and sit on it a little bit before posting and it got even more interesting.  Now I have sat on it even longer and well.... I give up.
The story is something like this.  Feds give a loan guarantee of a little over ½ -billion dollars to a high-tech solar panel manufacturer.  Note that the program was started in 2005 under “W”, not the current Whitehouse resident.  None-the-less, their prospects are so exciting that Obama visited with them in Fremont last year.
The problem is that they just declared bankruptcy. They now are added to a list that includes Evergreen Solar Inc., and Intel spinoff SpectraWatt, Inc.
Yuliya Chernova, Wall Street Journal, 1 September 2011  -page B1.
Despite receiving a $535 million federal loan and about $1 billion in venture capital, high-profile solar-panel maker Solyndra Inc. plans to file for bankruptcy protection, undermined by a weak global economy and competition from China.
The Fremont, Calif., company said Wednesday it is suspending manufacturing operations immediately and laying off 1,100 full-time and temporary employees.
Solyndra's planned Chapter 11 filing is a black eye for the clean-technology industry and for a federal program to guarantee $25 billion in loans, showing the danger of investing in a capital-intensive sector in which products can quickly become commoditized.
About 3,000 construction workers were employed to build a new factory. But amid competition from larger panel makers, Solyndra subsequently laid off staff and recapitalized...
Not all U.S.-backed solar companies are struggling. First Solar Inc., one of the world's largest manufacturers and developers, is getting more than $5.3 billion in loan guarantees to build four large solar farms. The company has a solar-panel factory in Ohio, but makes most of its products in Malaysia. First Solar didn't seek a loan guarantee for a second U.S. factory under construction.
The Chinese can beat us because they undervalue their currency, and instead of buying back product, they buy up our bonds.  If we did not have bonds we needed to sell, we could put trade restrictions on their panels without cutting our own throat.

Remember, new technology is generally the answer that both Republicans and Democrats state will be the way we get out from under the hydro-carbon conundrum.  The Democrats may think it needs to come sooner, but the Republicans are generally quick to say that the miracles of capitalism will allow us to invent our way out of energy problems.

As the Druid noted in a recent post, in science fiction the use of an improbable plotting device (technology solutions that violate the laws of physics being his specific reference point) it is referred to as alien space bats.  Well the the Solyndra case is looking even more improbable.

It appears that Thursday 8 September 2011, the FBI raided their HQ and seized documents and computer equipment as part of a previously undisclosed investigation: apparently on the direction of the Inspector General of the Department of Energy.
A spokesman said they had no idea what the FBI was looking for, and that they were cooperating fully.
FBI Raids Solar-Panel Maker: Probe of Solyndra Centers on Actions In Obtaining U.S. Loan Guarantees
Thomas Catan and Deborah Solomon, Wall Street Journal, 9 September 2011
House Republicans have questioned whether the White House interfered improperly with the Solyndra deal. One of the family funds of billionaire investor George Kaiser, who was a bundler for the president's 2008 campaign, invested in Solyndra and lent it money to keep it afloat.
On Sept. 1, two House Republicans investigating the Solyndra deal said they had evidence the White House monitored the loan deal and communicated with the Energy Department as it was being reviewed. The White House has denied any impropriety.
Given that the White House (any White House) is not usually very interested in investigating its own political cronyism, one can only suspect that it is some sort of witch hunt.



PioneerPreppy said...

While vetting the various loans and such has not been done correctly for decades, just like anything else it isn't as big a deal until it is. Maybe it is a bit of a witch hunt but after almost a trillion in stimulus went "poof" everyone is looking to place some blame. The stories I read of out of control purchases by solyndra including switch flicking polarized glass meeting rooms is just a glaring example of the abuse regular people are looking to punish.

This type of thing may stick and actually resonate with the voters while more significant crimes like gunwalker go un-noticed.

russell1200 said...

Yes, it is counter intutive, but possible that the load to the company was above board - just poorly thought out.

I think Gunwalker is a case of low expectations. The ATF is not a popular agency, and they know it. So when they do something stupid it is somewhat expected.