Update July 12: At today's hearing on this bill, the House Energy Committee will once again (after dozens of similar hearings) call witnesses that include the acting head of DOE's loan program and CEO of Abound Solar (which recently filed for bankruptcy.)
Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), who has led the Solyndra investigation, now wants to investigate Cape Wind, the offshore project that's beginning construction in Massachusetts.
"Cape Wind is another example of the Obama administration pushing "a dubious" green energy project for political reasons," he says in a press release. "It appears that an investigation is warranted to determine if the FAA acted inappropriately due to political pressure from the Administration."
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is going on a roadshow, with a hearing in Oklahoma tomorrow, titled "America's Energy Future Part I: A Review of Unnecessary and Burdensome Regulations," and in shale gas country in North Dakota on Saturday for Part 2, "A Blueprint for Domestic Energy Production."
Republican lawmakers are formalizing their assault on Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantees for young clean energy companies with the "No More Solyndras Act."
The tagline is: Legislation Will Ensure Taxpayers Are Never Again Left on the Hook for the Administration's Risky Bets
Even though two years of investigations uncovered no wrong-doing, and DOE's program was started in 2005 under President Bush, Solyndra continues to be a Republican cause celebre.
Dissatisfied that their endless investigation has produced no results, they are taking action through legislation.
Introduced by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-MI) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Cliff Stearns (R-FL), the draft bill will be discussed among the two panels tomorrow.
Here's what the bill would do:
DOE still has the power and budget to issue $34 billion in loan guarantees for applications submitted prior to 2012.
1. But the bill would bar DOE from granting loan guarantees to renewable energy projects for applications submitted after 2011 (which sounds like no more loan guarantees).
2. DOE would be required to report to Congress energy committees the terms of the guarantee and the technology it supports, purportedly to increase transparency.
3. There would be new review requirements including signoff from the Treasury Department, and DOE would be required to justify anything the Treasury didn't approve.
4. DOE would be prohibited from restructuring the terms of any guarantee without consulting with Treasury and there would be a provision that forbids DOE from subordinating US taxpayer dollars to company investors in the case of default.
5. And what about the $10 billion in conditional commitments DOE made for two new nuclear plants? They can still move forward.
Yet, nuclear plants are proven to be a far more expensive (note that $10B for one plant compared to the $550M loan for Solyndra), risky bet than any renewable energy company or project.
"Our investigation discovered that despite repeated warnings by Obama's own experts at DOE and OMB, a half-billion dollars for Solyndra was rushed out the door, and when Solyndra was out of cash, the administration doubled down and restructured the risky loan, putting the solar company's wealthy investors ahead of taxpayers," say Upton and Stearns.
The Obama administration has repeatedly contended Solyndra's demise was caused by its inability to compete against low-cost Chinese solar companies, as has been the case with so many older, extremely established companies like Q-Cells and Solar Millennium, which also filed for bankruptcy.
Abound, Beacon and Ener1, the other recipients of DOE's loan guarantees that have shut their doors, will not be anywhere near a total loss for taxpayers. Solyndra is the only company in that category out of the $35 billion in guarantees DOE handed out.
An independent review of DOE's renewable energy loan program concluded its portfolio is expected to perform well and holds less risk than Congress originally anticipated when they approved the program under President Bush. It also found DOE has done a good job of balancing the inevitable risks in the range of projects it selected.
Damien LaVera, a DOE spokesman, says the department is strengthening oversight of the program and "As we have consistently said, there is a degree of risk inherent in helping new, innovative technologies get off the ground. Congress recognized that risk by putting aside $10 billion in loan loss reserves. But this Administration believes that just because there is risk here, that doesn't mean we should throw up our hands and cede the jobs of the future to China, Spain, or anywhere else."
He also says that less than 4% of the government's $35 billion in loans, loan guarantees and conditional commitments went to solar manufacturers. 35% was awarded to solar projects that benefit from falling panel prices.
There was also risk in investing in the Internet and countless other technologies, which the government invested heavily in. An important role played by the federal government is to invest in game-changing technologies early on when private investors won't take the risk That is exactly what DOE's renewable energy program does - invest in companies and projects that are too risky for private investors to take on, but they will if they are backed by a government guarantee. Some of the biggest solar projects ever are under construction right now because they are backed by these guarantees.
But conservatives have used the situation to try to convince the US public that investments in renewable energy technologies are unreliable and risky. In January, the Americans for Prosperity advocacy group funded by the billionaire Koch brothers launched a $6 million television ad campaign slamming the Solyndra loan guarantee.
Here''s the draft "No More Solyndras Act":