Lawmakers: Gov’t didn’t do enough for Solyndra

At least two local lawmakers say the layoff of 1,100 workers and bankruptcy of Fremont-based Solyndra – a solar cell manufacturing company held up as a paragon of California’s burgeoning green economy by politicians such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Barbara Boxer and Barack Obama – is because government hasn’t done enough.

Per our story, Solyndra had landed $535 million in loan guarantees from the U.S. Department of Energy, as well as $1.1 billion in private venture capital.

Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, said he’s saddened by Solyndra’s news and his thoughts are with the workers who’ll lose their jobs, but the company’s struggle “is one shared by other American manufacturers attempting to scale-up operations in a very competitive global economy.

“Although there has been criticism of the amount of public funding received by the company, we must recognize that our fiercest foreign competitors often receive substantially more assistance from their own governments,” he said. “If America is to compete globally and maintain a strong manufacturing base in our industries, we must provide the proper investments, research, and incentives to grow jobs here and assist our companies in scaling up operations. Our workers in the region are among the most innovative and productive in the world, and I remain confident that we can be competitive in the emerging clean energy field.”

State Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, said it’s “devastating news,” and state lawmakers must “wake up to the fact we must act with urgency to protect jobs and help nurture California’s economy back to good health. When we don’t, our families and communities suffer. The instant loss of 1,100 jobs in my district is big blow that will have negative trickle-down effects throughout the Bay Area.”

“Unfortunately, it is too late to help Solyndra, but many other companies are struggling and could benefit from legislation I have authored that would give California-based solar companies a bid preference on state contracts,” Corbett said. “If California is going to place solar panels on state property, shouldn’t we try to use panels made in California? Isn’t it common sense to use taxpayer dollars to support California jobs? This is a simple measure that can help protect California jobs.”

Corbett’s SB 175 would’ve provided a 5-percent bid preference to companies that certify they’re using California-assembled or manufactured solar panels; the state Senate passed the bill June 1 on a 27-11 vote, but the Assembly Business and Professions Committee nixed it last month. Corbett recently revived the measure by gutting-and-amending the language into SB 134; time is growing short in this legislative session, but Corbett spokesman Andrew LaMar said today that Speaker John Perez’ office has committed to scheduling a hearing on it.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • RR, Senile Columnist

    China makes solar panels of good quality at a lower price than California can. If the Legislature mandated Calif.- made panels, what happens when some Nevada or Oregon outfit makes cheaper panels? Or a Riverside county company can make better panels than a Bay Area factory.?

  • Truthclubber

    For those in the (solar technology) know, Solyndra has long (the last 3-4 years) been referred to as “the Webvan of solar” — for good reason:

    1) Their technology was flawed
    2) Their addressable market was limited
    3) Their internal management attitude was arrogant

    In short, they were drinking their own Kool-Aid and “the bucket ran dry”…


  • Solyndra tried to grow too fast without revenue, typical of VC and Government back companies. I remember them working Construction crews 24hrs/day 7 days a week to build their new manufacturing facility only when it was done they announced they didn’t need it. This is the result of incompetent leadership.Bob Wieckowski is a f* idiot. You can’t just build manufacturing facilities and hire people hoping the work will come. The government can not bypass the laws of supply and demand. If the government want to push new technologies they should do it through university research not by providing welfare to incompetent companies. This is an example of a business plan being written to take advantage of government welfare just like Chrysler and the solar company that went under on the East Coast a couple weeks ago.

  • jim

    $500M of taxpayer dollars and at least 2 years ago everyone knew their cost assumptions were a joke. PLEASE… someone sue these clowns

  • Elwood

    Even O’bummer couldn’t save them with a $535 million “stimulus” check.

    He did give good rhetoric though.

  • Ballchinian

    Unreal. We’ve just gotten a hard lesson in why corporate welfare, even green corporate welfare, is never a good idea, and California legislators want to stuff more taxpayer money down the rathole.

  • CJ

    Let’s face it, this was all George W. Bush’s fault. We did not have any problems before that guy came along.

  • John W

    I heard one analyst say that their design was very good but so unique that they couldn’t use standard manufacturing equipment. So, they not only had to build their own product, they also had the additional fixed cost of building their own production system, making it impossible to be competitive. Oh well!

  • Tom Tanton

    Yes, that’s the idea…throw good money after bad. The fact is, stimulus funding like given to Solyndra IMPEDES innovation and improvement. Globally we’ve seen the failure of massive government intervention in makrtes by slecting some “winners” of the green jobs race. Our own policies are reducing productivity, and that is the fastest way to poverty.

  • Rachael Starke

    Oh I see. We need to keep up with the Chinese by copying their business practices.

    Got it.

  • I predicted two years ago that Solyndra would falter. Their basic design premise is flawed, their stated efficiencies bogus and their manufacturing processway too expensive compared with PV.
    It is yet another example of inept Gov’t using their ham fisted attempts to do something.

  • Alan G

    Sue the clowns? There’s a veritable circus of clowns here: Local Politicians, State Politicians, & Federal Politicians. Did I mention Politicians?

  • Blacque Jacques Shellacque

    Lawmakers: Gov’t didn’t do enough for Solyndra

    I’d say that blowing half a billion dollars of taxpayer money was more than enough.

  • P. D’Antonio

    Betting on companies using investor money isn’t that different from betting on a horse. When a company goes public, the consumers determine if its products are viable or not. All the marketing in the world isn’t going to hide an Edsel. Laws favoring California companies over Nevada or West Virginia or Hawaii or the other members of the U.S. represented in Congress doesn’t warm my fuzzies.

  • Roger Smith

    A longtime resident of San Leandro Im mad as hell that Ellen Corbett would change this bill that was supposed to save san leandro hospital to be changed to give solar companies a big fat check from tax payers! I sat in her townhalls one after another with her saying she would use this bill to make sure the hospital stayed open. It was going to pass – why change the bill in the last days???? Wait til Papa John finds out she sold us out!

  • comeonsense

    we the taxpayers didn’t do enough for them??? this is typical career politician speak. three years ago industry experts had already understood Solyndra’s technology would soon be outdated from a cost perspective, still our government ignored the predictions and threw away $500 million of our hard-earned cash and the politicians who lobbied for it wanted more??? it’s easy to spend other people’s money isn’t it? let’s vote all of the career politicians out of office and get people in there who have actually run a business successfully

  • Elwood

    They had a product which cost more to manufacture than they could sell it for.

    What the hell kind of business plan is that?

    What did they expect?

  • Charlemagne

    Didn’t do enough???
    What a STRANGE perspective! What do you call $500M?
    First of all, the Curse of Silicon Valley lives on. That’s the one where if and when you build a new HQ, your days are numbered.
    Secondly, “Green” Tech offers NOTHING new to America’s citizen-worker-taxpayers. Any manufacturing WILL be done overseas and what’s left, i.e. the installation, will be performed by our illegal immigrant brothers hired by cheap, unpatriotic and amoral construction companies.
    But, see, the real tragedy is that the college-deluded, incompetent “experts” who run our government chose to be deceived and wrote a $500M check without ANY strings attached. They will NEVER be held accountable for this predictable fiasco.
    Your government at work = Wasting precious time and money it DOES NOT HAVE.

  • The governemnt doesn’t have a clue here. I knew this would happen years ago (http://gigaom.com/cleantech/solyndras-estimated-market-cap-up-to-2b-report/). This is one of the two worst ideas in solar (and I have seen a lot). The idea of minimizing the use of you solar material versus maximizing it (like concentrated solar) doesn’t make a lot of sense. The cost will be driven down by using the materials more effectively like concentrated photovoltaics (CPV). I especailly like the Rainbow Concentrator by Sol Solution (www.Sol-Solution.net).

  • Elwood

    GOP wants White House papers on loan to failed solar company


  • Elwood
  • John W

    Re #21

    Flash! GOP wants to investigate a bad call that went wrong on Obama’s watch? What a surprise!

  • Elwood

    @ #22

    Bad call? That’s like saying the captain of the Titanic made a bad call.

    How about rampant stupidity?

  • John W

    Okay, then, make it “stupid” call. By “rampant,” you probably are referring to the fact that the Bush administration had not rejected the loan guarantee when it handed off the file to the new administration. I assume the investigation will include that phase of the application review. I’m sure the GOP investigators are seeking a fair and complete inquiry.

  • Elwood

    @ #24

    It’s all Bush’s fault.

    Of course.

    I expected better of you, John W.

  • Elwood

    “In a statement this week, the two Republican congressman leading the investigation into the Solyndra loan, Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., said they “smelled a rat from the onset.” But they did raise legitimate complaints.

    “Over the last six months, Solyndra executives, lobbyists and investors, as well as officials at the DOE and (the Office of Management and Budget) repeatedly told committee investigators that Solyndra was financially sound,” they wrote.”


  • John W

    Okay Elwood. You win. We’ll put this one in Obama’s column. There’s plenty of other far more consequential stuff for which it truly is “all Bush’s fault.”

    And I must say, I didn’t even know you had expectations of me. I’m deeply touched.

  • Rick K.

    Where is our $535 million? Would someone please cut to the chase and confirm whether or not the taxpayers’ half-billion “investment” is lost and gone forever? How much of it went to exorbitant salaries and perquisites for officers? And how exactly is former State Controller Steve Westly linked to this waste? Is is true that Mr. Westly exercised his political influence to get this half-billion steered to his cronies at Solyndra? Why doesn’t some investigative reporter (a la “60 Minutes”) chase down Westly and force him to get on the record? Maybe Congressman Issa’s committee should investigate this colossal waste of our money.

  • John W

    The whole $535M may be down the tubes. However, my understanding is that the government may recover some portion of it through asset sales. One of the Solyndra investors was a large contributor to the Obama campaign, and some of the criticism is that there were shortcuts in reviewing and approving the loan guarantee application. First I’ve heard of any Steve Westly involvement. Issa is not exactly the model of propriety, but he can investigate all he wants. My take on this is that, rightly or wrongly, the Obama administration and Steven Chiu honestly believe that renewable energy can be the the next big thing to fuel economic growth. David Brooks disputes that in a current column in the NYT. Solyndra seemed on the cutting edge, and the private investors had plenty of skin in the game (three times as much as the loan guarantee). So the administration made a big bet. Unfortunately, Solyndra turned out to be on the bleeding edge instead. Due diligence was poor. They relied too much on the idea of Silicon Valley magic dust. Lesson learned.

  • Elwood

    “the Obama administration and Steven Chiu honestly believe that renewable energy can be the the next big thing to fuel economic growth”

    And some people believe in fairies.

  • Elwood

    The FBI is serving search warrants at Solyndra this morning.

    What do you suppose that is about?

    Maybe they’re searching for the wonderfulness O’bummer described in his speech there.

  • John W

    Speculation by Fox News (Judge Napolitano) is that they are looking for documents that would assist the government in making the case that it should have a more favorable position ahead of other creditors.

  • Elwood

    To the tune of the old Pepsodent commercial:

    They wonder where the money went,

    That’s why the FBI was sent!

  • Josh Richman
  • Elwood

    Of course, Josh.

    It’s all Bush’s fault!

    Everybody knows that!

    But why didn’t the omniscient O’bummer correct the evil Bush’s mistake? He’s had two and a half years. Seems long enough to me.

  • John W

    This summary is what Al Gore might call “an inconvenient truth.” I’m sure the GOP investigators will rush to enter this into the record.

    The administration did not have “two and a half years” as stated by Professor Elwood. The loan guarantee was approved 8 months after Obama was sworn in. To be frank, somebody should have had a heads up about what was happening to silicon prices and in China, but this is not Solar-gate.