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Colorado Rep. DeGette seeks to press solar panel maker Solyndra CEO for answers

Colorado U.S. Representative Diana DeGette on Thursday sent a letter to Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Cliff Stearns urging him to invite Brian Harrison, president and CEO of Solyndra, to testify before an investigative subcommittee of which she is a ranking member.

“Less than two months ago, Mr. Harrison met with us and other Committee members to assure us that Solyndra was in a strong financial position and in no danger of failing,” DeGette wrote with California Representative and Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman. “At that time, [Harrison] said the company was projected to double its revenues in 2011, there was ‘strong demand in the United States’ for its shipments, and the company was expected to double the megawatts of panel production shipped this year. These assurances appear to contrast starkly with his company’s decision to file for bankruptcy last week.”

Silicon Valley-based solar panel maker Solyndra was a new-energy darling of the Obama 2009 stimulus package. The company received roughly $530 million in government loans and yet went belly up last month.

The events seemed to confirm the worst fears and suspicions of green energy critics who see the sector as a money hole, a land of hyped hope and dreams that provides fertile ground for get-rich-quick schemes and government-business insider graft.

Stearns this week said he “smelled a rat” in Solyndra from the beginning and pointed to the fact that Solyndra investor George Kaiser was an Obama campaign donor. The Energy Department downplayed the accusations, saying that Solyndra support was in the pipeline during the Bush administration and the Obama team merely finished the deal.

More likely, Solyndra appears to have made the kind of business bets that can make or break a company and that broke this one.

As the New York Times reported, the company’s panels don’t use silicon, which was a much more costly commodity in 2009 when the loan guarantee was approved than it is now. And the cylindrical design of the panels was meant to cut installment costs and improve efficiency by more easily catching the sun wherever it is in the sky. But manufacturing those special panels proved too costly.

The Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee will conduct its hearing on the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program and Solyndra on September 14th.

DeGette’s letter:

Dear Chairman Stearns:

We understand that you have scheduled a hearing on September 14, 2011, to examine the Department of Energy’s 2009 loan guarantee to Solyndra and the recent announcement by the company that it is planning to file for bankruptcy. We hope this hearing will help the Committee understand whether mistakes were made in the handling of this loan and how Congress can improve loan guarantee program and develop appropriate policies to promote clean energy technologies.

We are writing to request that you invite Brian Harrison, chief executive officer of Solyndra, to testify at the hearing. Less than two months ago, Mr. Harrison met with us and other Committee members to assure us that Solyndra was in a strong financial position and in no danger of failing. At that time, he said the company was projected to double its revenues in 2011, there was “strong demand in the United States” for its shipments, and the company was expected to double the megawatts of panel production shipped this year. These assurances appear to contrast starkly with his company’s decision to file for bankruptcy last week.

Any thorough examination of the Solyndra loan guarantee should include the opportunity to ask Mr. Harrison about his representations. He did not convey to us the perilous condition of the company and the Committee should know why.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

Henry A. Waxman Diana DeGette

Ranking Member Ranking Member

Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

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