GOP knocks Clinton for Solyndra-related supporter

Republicans are trying to revive Solyndra – the Fremont-based solar energy company that went bankrupt in 2011 after receiving a federal loan guarantee – as an issue in 2016’s presidential campaign.

Hillary screenshotThe Republican National Committee has published an opposition research brief titled “Another Scandal in the Making” that knocks Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton for her scheduled attendance Friday at a Tulsa, Okla. fundraiser hosted by billionaire oilman and banker George Kaiser, a prominent Democratic fundraiser.

“Clinton is cashing in with a central figure in the Obama administration’s Solyndra scandal,” the GOP’s memo says.

Bloomberg News reported in 2011 that Kaiser’s family foundation invested $340 million in Solyndra, partly in hope that the solar-cell manufacturer would open a plant in Tulsa.

Solyndra also had received a $535 million loan guarantee from the federal government. The company, facing stiff competition from solar manufacturers in China and elsewhere, declared bankruptcy in September 2011; taxpayers took a loss of about $500 million. However, the renewable-energy loan program overall has made more money than it lost.

Solyndra in 2012 became a poster child for GOP charges of the Obama administration’s cronyism, in that the Energy Department apparently had pushed the loan guarantee through for a company in which several prominent Democratic donors were invested. Republican nominee Mitt Romney held a news conference in May 2012 outside the company’s shuttered headquarters. And an Energy Department inspector general’s report released in August found that Solyndra company officials had misrepresented facts and omitted key information in their efforts to secure the loan guarantee, while the department itself wasn’t adequately diligent and felt political pressure to OK the application.

The GOP’s new memo notes Clinton spoke in support of Solyndra in 2011 while serving as U.S. Secretary of State, and that Kaiser has donated up to $250,000 to the Clinton Foundation. It also notes that although Kaiser said he didn’t discuss the loan guarantee with the government, an email trail later revealed that his foundation’s staff had.


Two area Democrats OKed ‘No More Solyndras’ bill

Two Northern California House Democrats sided with House Republicans last week to pass a bill called the “No More Solyndras Act” to phase out the clean energy loan-guarantee program that bankrolled the now-defunct Fremont solar manufacturer.

Reps. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, and Rep. John Garamendi, D-Fairfield, were among the 22 Democrats who joined with 223 House Republicans to vote in favor of H.R. 6213; they were the only California Democrats to do so. On the other side, 157 Democrats and four Republicans opposed the bill, which now is before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, praised the bill as ensuring “that taxpayers are no longer left holding the bag for the administration’s reckless investments. … The Obama administration may still regard the loan program that brought us Solyndra as an ‘enormous success,’ but the American people know better.”

Both McNerney and Garamendi are locked in tough re-election battles: McNerney, with Lodi Republican Ricky Gill; and Garamendi, with Colusa County Supervisor Kim Vann, also a Republican. Also, both voted for President Barack Obama’s economic-stimulus package, which funded the loan-guarantee program among many other things; the program itself began during President George W. Bush’s administration.

“This program, like all government programs, needs to be reviewed and modified to address problems,” Garamendi said in a statement issued by a spokesman Friday. “I will continue my work to strengthen energy independence, create clean energy jobs, and Make It In America.”

McNerney last year had defended the loan-guarantee program.

“Solyndra certainly needs to be accounted for,” he had said in an interview. “But in order to develop new sources of energy we need to do research and development, and a well-supervised loan guarantee is one way to achieve that. I think there is a need for loan guarantees, especially considering what’s happening overseas.

McNerney had said it’s “not a good argument to say that the failure of one company is an indication that the whole industry has a problem. Moreover, oil, gas and coal companies have had government subsidies for 100 years or so, so I think it’s reasonable that renewable resources companies can look to the government for help both in research and in incentives.”

McNerney spokeswoman Lauren Smith on Saturday noted McNerney’s use of the phrase “well-supervised,” and said he made no endorsement of a program that lacks proper oversight and management.

“Congressman McNerney has always taken pride in being an independent voice and representing the people in our community,” she said. “With the people in Contra Costa and San Joaquin Counties struggling in today’s economy, he felt compelled to vote for H.R. 6213 to ensure that their hard-earned tax dollars are spent in a responsible way with proper oversight and accountability. He understands what it’s like to be out of work and worried about money – and how every last dollar matters to most families in our region.”

As the Associated Press reported, Republicans have noted that three of the first five companies to get loan guarantees under the stimulus, including Solyndra, have gone bankrupt. But Democrats say Republicans are ignoring the Energy Department’s successes, including saving nearly 300 million gallons of gasoline a year by supporting such projects as one of the world’s largest wind farms in Oregon, a large solar generation project in California and a major photovoltaic solar power plant in Arizona.

Gill’s campaign is making hay of McNerney’s vote, noting McNerney had called green energy his “signature issue” during his initial run for the House in 2006.

“It turns out his signature was written in disappearing ink,” said Gill campaign consultant Kevin Spillane, accusing McNerney of “suddenly running away from the issue that defined his candidacy and his entire record in Congress — the advocacy of green energy, its supposedly endless economic potential, and the need for costly government incentives to promote its development.”

“Seems like McNerney’s true ‘signature issue’ is saving his political career,” Spillane said.

Smith replied this is “a blatant political attack… There is no credibility there.”


Solyndra, ‘sh*t out of luck,’ reborn as art

Solyndra, the Fremont solar manufacturer on whom the Obama Administration – and taxpayers – lost a $535 million gamble as part of the economic stimulus package, has left at least one positive legacy: a work of architectural art.

SOL Grotto (photo by Matthew Millman)Oakland-based Rael San Fratello Architects, established in 2002 by partners Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello, used glass tubes from the bankrupt and defunct Solyndra to create the “SOL Grotto,” described as “a space of solitude and close to nature where one is presented with a mediated experience of water, coolness and light” in the University of California Botanical Garden in Berkeley.

“The SOL Grotto also explores Solyndra’s role as a company Sh*t Out of Luck,” the website says. “1,368 of the 24 million high tech glass tubes destined to be destroyed as a casualty of their bankruptcy, are used in the installation.”

The project is part of the exhibit “Natural Discourse,” a collaborative project between the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley and a multi-disciplinary group of artists, writers, architects and researchers who have been invited to spend time in the Garden’s extraordinary collection of plants, engage with the horticulturists and develop new work.

“The tube’s original role as a light concentrating element is extended to transmit cool air into the space via the Venturi effect, to amplify sounds from the adjacent waterfall via the vibrations of the tubes cantilevering over the creek, and to create distorted views of the garden,” the site says. “The glass tubes are illuminated electric-blue naturally from the direct and ambient light that is conducted through the glass causing each tube to change in intensity throughout the day.”

“Collectively, the tubes take on the form of a cave wall or a waterfall, evoking Plato’s Allegory of the Cave where shadows, light and sounds call reality into question. The view through the rods is simultaneously kaleidoscopic and mesmeric and has become home to several insects found in the garden. The sound of a waterfall is present inside The SOL Grotto and the combination of sound, light, views and coolness filtering through the cracks in the flooring creates a highly sensorial space.”

Naturally, Republican lawmakers, conservative bloggers and Fox News are all over it.

Meanwhile, Reuters is reporting today that Seagate Technology, maker of hard drives and storage devices, has reached an agreement to buy Solyndra’s former manufacturing plant and headquarters building on Kato Road along I-880 in Fremont.


NRCC launches Solyndra ad against Garamendi

The National Republican Congressional Committee is going after Rep. John Garamendi with a television ad that attacks him for supporting the Obama Administration policies which brought about the loan guarantee to now-bankrupt Fremont solar manufacturer Solyndra.

It’ll be playing for about two weeks on cable channels serving the newly drawn 3rd Congressional District in which Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, is seeking re-election next year. The NRCC in recent years has run such ads in the Bay Area only against Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton – the only local member the national GOP has seen as vulnerable.

But the NRCC believes redistricting has left Garamendi much more vulnerable than he used to be. They say that his new district will vote far less partisan Democrat; that when he ran statewide for lieutenant governor in 2006, he lost this area; and that – as I wrote Monday – GOP challenger Kim Doblow Vann raised more money than he did in the third quarter of this year, with more money in the bank as of Sept. 30.

Here’s the script:

OFF SCREEN CHARACTER: “My name is Nancy and I have a problem.”
ANNOUNCER: The Washington politicians need some therapy for their addiction.
OFF SCREEN: “Hi Barack.”
ANNOUNCER: They have an addiction to wasting government money and gambling on risky loans.
The government just lost millions on a bankrupt solar energy company called Solyndra.
President Obama blamed the loss on a gambling philosophy.
OBAMA: “That’s exactly what the loan guarantee program was designed by Congress to do, was to take bets.”
ANNOUNCER: Take bets? With tax dollars?
The Obama administration loaned money to Solyndra even after they’d been warned it was financially unstable.
OBAMA: The true engine of economic growth will always be companies like Solyndra.
ANNOUNCER: John Garamendi supported the Obama policy that loaned Solyndra money.
Garamendi backed Obama’s failed stimulus economic policy.
John Garamendi and President Obama are making our economy worse.
DISCLAIMER: The National Republican Congressional Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising.

I’ll post comments from Garamendi as soon as I get ‘em; check back for updates.

UPDATE @ 8:18 A.M. WEDNESDAY: Garamendi sent me his response to the ad this morning:

“If we’re going to make it in America, we need to Make It In America. By drastically cutting our nation’s investments in clean energy manufacturing and research, Tea Party Republicans would prefer to destroy jobs in the United States and encourage the outsourcing of American jobs. Imagine where our country would be today if we just gave up after early setbacks in the space program, the Internet, and medical research. The quitters were wrong then; they’re wrong now.

“The Solyndra loan guarantee didn’t pan out, and that is unfortunate. It is even more unfortunate that the Republican Party is using this as an opportunity to malign investments in clean energy manufacturing at a time when we need to come together for the good of our nation to Make It In America again. In California alone, six large solar facilities that received loans from the same Recovery Act program as Solyndra are on track to create 4,000 good construction jobs over the next five years. There are more than 100,000 solar jobs in America, double the number that existed in 2009, largely thanks to government investments. Jobs and American recovery will not come from surrendering entire industries to China.”

UPDATE @ 12:38 P.M. WEDNESDAY: Apparently this was previously scheduled, but now it’ll be another opportunity for Garamendi to hammer his point home – he’s doing a news conference tomorrow with the BlueGreen Alliance at PG&E’s Vaca-Dixon Solar Station near Vacaville, to emphasize the importance of passing legislation to invest in clean energy research and American-made manufacturing.

“The number of jobs in solar energy has doubled to more than 100,000 since 2009, largely thanks to smart public investments in our clean energy future,” he said in a news release today. As with GPS, the Internet, and medical breakthroughs, government can spur innovation that allows new industries to blossom and enables businesses to employ millions of Americans.”

The Vaca-Dixon Solar Station, a two-megawatt solar pilot project completed in June 2010, is part of PG&E’s five-year plan to promote development of up to 500 megawatts of medium-sized solar photovoltaic projects in its service area; the company says this will help meet California’s AB 32 climate-change goals. The solar panels at the facility were assembled in America.

UPDATE @ 3:20 P.M. THURSDAY: The final update (I hope). Garamendi is now raising campaign money off the NRCC ad, with an e-mail alert that went out today. It said, in part:

We knew it would come to this. Washington Republicans are now running outrageous attack ads against me for supporting American-made clean energy investments.

Republicans are using these misleading attack ads to distort the truth about clean energy. If the Tea Party has its way, we will surrender our clean energy future to China and other competitors.

So long as I’m in Congress, I’ll do all I can to stop them. We need to Make It In America if we’re going to make it in America. But, we need urgent Rapid Response funds to fight back and spread the truth about their misleading attacks. We have set a goal to raise $10,000 before Monday for our efforts. Will you help us with an urgent gift today of $25, $50 or more right now?

Contribute $25. $50 or even $100 or more today before Monday’s urgent Rapid Response deadline…


Fox targets Rep. Miller but gets its facts wrong


Fox cable pundits such as Sean Hannity are naming Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, and his lobbyist son, George IV, as unholy kingpins in SunPower’s successful bid for $1.2 billion in federal loans to create jobs in Mexico. (See update below.)

It’s provocative but all untrue.

George Miller IV is a California lobbyist and a partner at Lang, Hansen, O’Malley and Miller. Yes, SunPower retained the firm but only for state-level lobbying activities. Its state lobbyist is Bob Giroux. No, George IV is not a federal lobbyist. And he told Media Matters for America, a web site where much of this stuff has been debunked (see more about this site below), that he has never even worked on the SunPower state account.

More important, no one needs to lobby Congressman Miller to support solar projects. He has been a vocal advocate for alternative energies for decades.

SunPower’s is headquartered in San Jose but it has a research and development facility in Miller’s district in Richmond. In October 2010, he toured SunPower’s R/D facility in Richmond along with Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and SunPower CEO Tom Werner.

In July 2009, Miller and Werner were among many sponsors of a meeting of the Council on Competitiveness Energy Summit held at Moffett Field.

Media Matters found no evidence that SunPower is likely to  go the way of  Solyndra, another Silicon Valley-based solar company that gained massive notoriety and triggered a federal investigation when it suddenly defaulted on its Department of Energy loans. In fact, they found the opposite. Media Matters noted that analysts in a New York Times piece found SunPower “srongly placed” in the market. Other experts have said there is little chance SunPower will default.

Media Matters also refuted the allegation that the federal dollars will be used to create jobs in Mexico. The loan guarantee is for the construction of a 250-megawatt solar farm in San Luis Obispo County.  Yes, the company is building a manufacturing facility in Mexico but it is also building one in Milpitas, neither of which will require the use of  federal dollars.

How did this all get started with the Millers?

The first mention of Miller and his son, George IV,  in connection with SunPower appears to have been in Human Events, a conservative web site.  From there, the story spread to the cable shows with apparently little effort to verify the information. Even a local blog, Claycord.com, posted a Hannity video clip with a lead-in that says the congressman is involved in a “scandal.”

The story has also spawned concern in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District, which signed a contract with SunPower for the installation of solar panels on school facilities.

Reasonable people may disagree on the merits of federal investment in the alternative energies market but there is no scandal involving the Millers and SunPower.

UPDATE 9:40 AM FRIDAY: Critics have rightfully noted that I failed to state that Media Matters is a web site dedicated to debunking statements made by conservatives. But honestly, Media Matters’ motives are irrelevant. If I only listened to entities that had pure motives, I would listen to almost no one.

I linked to this site because it contains a long list of direct links to articles elsewhere that contain the facts, not opinions by Media Matters, which are clear:

  • Congressman Miller’s son, George IV, is not a SunPower lobbyst and he played no role in the company’s receipt of a federal Department of Energy Loan.  If he had been a SunPower lobbyist, I would have written an entirely different post.
  • Numerous financial experts quoted in reputable news organizations such as the New York Times, San Jose Mercury News, Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post have found SunPower to be a viable business and unlikely to default on its federal loan guarantee.

In further reporting late yesterday, a colleague who covers business in the Silicon Valley for the San Jose Mercury News confirmed that SunPower is using the federal loan guarantee to build a solar farm in San Luis Obispo, not open a manufacturing plant in Mexico.

And I just got off the phone with the congressman and he tells me that his involvement in SunPower’s application for a federal loan guarantee consisted of a letter of support he and Rep. Zoe Lofgren wrote to the Department of Energy recommending its approval.

Again, there is no scandal involving SunPower and Congressman Miller.

If there was a scandal, you can bet I would be all over it because reporters love scandals. We live for them.

But I am also cognizant of the fact that as public confidence in all forms of government continues its devastating downward spiral, I have an equal responsibility to challenge inaccurate accusations. The utter disregard by people on both ends of the political spectrum for facts is downright scary.