February 27, 2021

Solar Company Is Searched by F.B.I.

F.B.I. agents on Thursday served search warrants on Solyndra, the large manufacturer of solar arrays that announced last week that it was filing for bankruptcy protection. The search was part of an investigation into $527 million worth of loans the company received from the Treasury Department that were guaranteed by the Department of Energy under a highly touted federal stimulus program.

“The F.B.I. is here. We don’t know the specifics,” said David Miller, a Solyndra spokesman. “It is in connection with the loan guarantee, but other than that we don’t know.”

The warrants are part of a joint investigation between the F.B.I. and the Department of Energy’s Office of Inspector General, according to Alicia Sensibaugh, a spokeswoman for the F.B.I., who declined to elaborate further.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has also scheduled a Sept. 14 hearing into the loans.

Solyndra has been a subject of controversy for years within the solar industry. Rather than produce conventional, flat solar panels, the company made tube-shaped panels that can harvest early morning light and evening sunsets for electricity.

Critics, though, have pointed out that Solyndra’s panels cost far more than standard panels. Solyndra’s panels cost $2 a watt to produce, according to Shyam Mehta of GTM Research. Chinese crystalline solar module makers currently can produce modules for $1.10 a watt and the price continues to go down.

Venture capitalists and others had invested more than $1 billion in the company. President Obama last year toured the company’s Fremont factory, and it became a symbol of the president’s push to promote more “green” jobs.

Solyndra has sold more than $140 million worth of panels, but it has also suffered from product delays and management changes. Last year, the co-founder Chris Gronet was replaced as chief executive by Brian Harrison.

Last week, Solyndra shut its doors and laid off all of its employees, a prelude to this week’s formal bankruptcy filing.

Solyndra was one of the leading beneficiaries of the Department of Energy’s programs to promote alternative energy, which were expanded as part of the 2009 economic stimulus legislation. The Energy Department granted the company a loan guarantee of up to $535 million, dependent on it receiving certain benchmarks. The company had tapped $527 million of the guarantee as of its bankruptcy filing.

Although loans through the program are typically made by private banks, in Solyndra’s case, it borrowed the money from the Federal Financing Bank, an arm of the Treasury Department.

George Kaiser, an Oklahoma billionaire, is one of the largest investors in Solyndra through Argonaut Ventures and a family foundation, and he was also a donor to President Obama’s 2008 campaign. However, the company had begun preparing its federal loan application well before the election.

The Energy Department and the company have previously expressed hope that a buyer would emerge for all or part of the company.

But Alain Harrus, a partner at Crosslink Capital who has invested in the Solyndra competitor Solopower, was skeptical that another company would be interested in Solyndra’s technology.

“Why would you add the extra complexity of making a cylinder? Flat-plate solar panels are so cheap,” he said. “It is quite unlikely that somebody would want to purchase the entire factory. It would be quite expensive to retool it and use it for another solar cell format.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=71fe264247dbdc566e42e39bc8ac8c8d

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