U.S. lawmakers press DOE about Abound Solar tech problems

By Ayesha Rascoe

WASHINGTON, Oct 10 (Reuters) - U.S. Republican lawmakers onWednesday pressed the Obama administration for more informationabout its decision to back, and then stop funding, anow-bankrupt solar company, with a report now saying the companymay have been selling a faulty product.

The request from leaders of the Republican-led House Energyand Commerce committee marked the latest probe of theadministration's energy loan program, which has become alightning rod for critics after the high profile failure ofsolar panel maker Solyndra.

Abound Solar, another solar manufacturer in the program,filed for bankruptcy in July after receiving about $70 millionof its $400 million loan guaranteed by the government.

At the time Abound cited intense competition from Chinesepanel makers as the reason for the company's collapse, but areport from The Daily Caller website said internal documentsshow Abound's panels were defective.

"Recent reports and publicly available documents indicatethat persistent technological problems contributed to Abound'sinability to remain commercially viable and, ultimately, itsbankruptcy," said Republican Congressmen Fred Upton, Energy andCommerce committee chairman, Cliff Stearns and Cory Gardner in aletter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

The Daily Caller report said the panels were underperformingand prone to catch fire. The website was founded by TuckerCarlson, a conservative commentator, and Neil Patel, who was anadviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney.

In their letter, the lawmakers questioned what the EnergyDepartment knew about these technological problems beforeawarding Abound's loan and whether these issues played any rolein the department's decision to cut off funding for the projectin August 2011.

Prior to finalizing the loan for Abound, adepartment-commissioned engineering report found "performanceshortfalls" with the company's panels, the lawmakers said.

So far, the funding received by the three bankrupt companies- including Beacon Power, an energy storage company - in theloan program represents less than 4 percent of the $16 billionin loans the program backed.

The Energy Department has defended its investment in AboundSolar, saying the company was an "innovative" manufacturer thatsuffered from the precipitous drop in solar panel costs.

An Energy Department official said the administration hasalready provided Congress with more than 1 million pages ofdocuments as part of Republicans' extensive review of the loanprogram, including the independent engineering and marketanalyses used to evaluate Abound.

(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)