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Energy Department Tried to Delay Solyndra Layoffs: GOP

The Obama administration wanted the failing solar energy company Solyndra to delay announcing employee layoffs last year until after the 2010 midterm elections, Republican investigators said.

Solyndra's headquarters in Fremont, Calif.
Source: Solyndra
Solyndra's headquarters in Fremont, Calif.

A memo prepared by GOP staff at the House Energy and Commerce Committee cites an October 2010 email from an unnamed Solyndra investment adviser to another unidentified investment adviser. The email, according to committee aides, said Energy Department officials were pushing "very hard" to delay making the layoffs public until Nov. 3, 2010 — the day after the midterm elections.

"Oddly they didn't give a reason for that date," the memo quotes the email as saying. The email and others cited in the GOP memo were not released, although a spokeswoman for the committee said they were likely to be released later Wednesday.

Solyndra announced some layoffs on Nov. 3, 2010, after the election, but continued to receive federal assistance. The company, which received a $528 million federal loan in 2009, closed its doors on Aug. 31, 2011, and laid off its 1,100 workers.

Energy Department spokesman Damien LaVera on Tuesday declined to confirm events described in the emails or to identify who at the Energy Department may have urged the delay in the layoff announcement. He said "decisions about this loan were made on the merits."

Energy Secretary Steven Chu is scheduled to testify before the House energy panel on Thursday.

Solyndra's implosion and revelations that administration officials rushed to complete the loan in time for a September 2009 groundbreaking have become an embarrassment for Obama and a rallying cry for GOP critics of his green energy program.

The Republican-controlled energy panel has subpoenaed White House communications on Solyndra and has released thousands of pages of emails related to the company.

Emails released last week show that top officials at the White House circulated a plan calling for Chu's ouster as the administration braced for a political storm brewing over Solyndra.

An email from a clean-energy activist and former official in Obama's 2008 campaign said that Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, was a brilliant man but "not perfect" for other critical Energy Department missions, including creating jobs.

A White House spokesman said the plan to oust Chu was not taken very seriously.

Chu told National Public Radio that contributors to Obama's campaign did not influence the decisions on government aid to the now-bankrupt solar panel maker Solyndra.

Chu defended decisions made by the Energy Department on the $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra in his first major interview on what has become a nagging political issue for the Obama administration.

The interview, on Tuesday night, comes just ahead of his testimony to the House Energy and Commerce committee on Thursday, where Republicans probing the loan are expected to grill him on the taxpayer-funded aid to Solyndra.

Republicans have raised questions about whether decisions were made to help George Kaiser, a major investor in Solyndra and a fund-raiser for Obama's 2008 campaign.

"No decision we made in the loan program had anything to do with who is investing in this company," Chu said.

"Who was backing the company had nothing to do with the work of our loan professionals. To what extent they were even aware I can't really say. But certainly, at my level and the people I was talking to, we were not aware of either the Democrat or Republican backers," he said.

When Chu was named Energy Secretary, he made speeding up delivery of loan guarantees to renewable energy companies a top priority. He said he stood by his decision to move fast.

"We improved the process. We did not cut corners. We actually made it more thorough and diligent," Chu said.

The department did its homework on the loan and could not have predicted the plunging price of solar panels that killed the company, which had higher costs than competitors.

"As time went on, there was a growing concern because of the cash flow. And so we certainly were watching this and looking at this very closely. And then eventually, we recognized that they were in deep trouble," Chu said.