Obama: No regrets about Solyndra loan

By Matthew Daly

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Oct. 3 2011 5:15 p.m. MDT

A worker stands near unfinished solar panel framework at a Mesquite Solar 1 facility under construction Friday, Sept. 30, 2011, in Arlington, Ariz. The new solar facility is part of a $1 billion Energy Department loan guarantee, of which $337 million is going to Mesquite Solar 1 for the 150 megawatt solar panel facility.

Ross D. Franklin, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Monday he does not regret a $528 million loan to a solar energy company that later collapsed, saying officials always knew a clean energy loan program would not back winners 100 percent of the time.

"There are going to be some failures, and Solyndra's an example," Obama said in an ABC News interview, referring to a California solar panel maker that declared bankruptcy last month and laid off its 1,100 workers. The company's failure has become a rallying cry for critics of Obama's clean energy program who say the government should not try to predict winners and losers in the volatile renewable energy market.

Obama disputed that, saying China is pouring "hundreds of billions of dollars into this space." If the United States wants to compete with China, Germany and other countries that are heavily subsidizing clean energy, "we've got to make sure that our guys here in the United States of America at least have a shot," Obama said.

Obama was asked whether his administration had ignored warnings about Solyndra, as some congressional Republicans assert.

"Well, hindsight is always 20-20," he said.

The Solyndra loan, which was approved in 2009, "went through the regular review process and people felt like this was a good bet," Obama said in his first comments on the loan that has caused a headache for his administration.

Democrats on a House energy panel released emails Monday showing that a Democratic fundraiser warned the White House to be "careful" about a planned Obama trip to Solyndra.

Steve Westly, a Silicon Valley investor and Energy Department adviser, said in an email that he and others were worried that Solyndra might not "survive long-term."

Westly urged Obama to reconsider the trip, but said that if the president did visit the company, he should avoid any remarks "that could haunt him in the next 18 months if Solyndra hits the wall, files for bankruptcy etc."

In a May 24, 2010 email to White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, Westly said, "I just want to help protect the president from anything that could result in negative or unfair press."

Two days later, Obama traveled to Solyndra's Fremont, Calif., headquarters.

The Silicon Valley company was the first renewable-energy company to receive a loan guarantee under a stimulus-loan program to encourage green energy and was frequently touted by the Obama administration as a model. Energy Secretary Steven Chu attended the company's September 2009 groundbreaking for a new manufacturing plant, and Vice President Joe Biden spoke by satellite at the ceremony.

The company's implosion and revelations that the administration hurried Office of Management and Budget officials to finish their review of the loan in time for the 2009 groundbreaking have become an embarrassment for Obama.

Even so, the administration has pushed forward with loans, awarding more than $6 billion in the past week alone for seven projects. In all, the clean energy loan program has awarded 28 loans worth more than $16 billion since 2009.

On Monday, Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee released a memo containing excerpts of White House correspondence on Solyndra. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and other Democrats said the documents received by the committee so far do not support Republican allegations of political favoritism toward Solyndra.

Instead, the Democrats said the documents show there was "vigorous internal debate" among officials at the Energy Department and the White House budget office about the Solyndra loan guarantee that eventually included senior officials in the White House.

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