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Missed warning signs: A Solyndra timeline

From start, Energy officials pushed ahead with financial boost to now-failed solar startup

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President Obama shakes hand with Solyndra employees on a tour of the company headquarters.

Paul Chinn/AP

House investigators plan a hearing Wednesday to explore questions about the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee to Solyndra Inc., a California solar panel firm that secured a $535 million government loan but just fired 1,100 workers and filed for bankruptcy.  Records obtained by iWatch News show that, from the start, the government ignored warning signs about the company’s viability as it pressed ahead with the funding.

2005: Solyndra Inc. is founded by Dr. Christian Gronet.

2006: The company opens its headquarters in Fremont, Calif.

Dec. 2006: Solyndra files an application for a Energy Department loan guarantee just before the New Year.

2007: Production begins on the company’s solar rooftop panels.

2008: As Solyndra’s loan application proceeds, Fitch Ratings assigns the company a less than stellar B+ credit rating, and Dun & Bradstreet assesses its credit as “fair.”

March 2009: Energy Secretary Steven Chu announces Solyndra will receive the Energy Department's first energy loan guarantee—a $535 million financing to expand the company’s solar rooftop production. From the release: “Secretary Chu initially set a target to have the first conditional commitments out by May—three months into his tenure—but today's announcement significantly outpaces that aggressive timeline. Secretary Chu credited the Department's loan team for their work accelerating the process to offer this conditional commitment in less than two months.”

Sept. 2009: The loan closes and Solyndra begins construction of its "Fab 2" factory to expand its production line. Chu and then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger attend the groundbreaking. "This announcement today is part of the unprecedented investment this Administration is making in renewable energy and exactly what the Recovery Act is all about," Vice President Joe Biden says via teleconference. U.S. Treasury’s Federal Financing Bank issues the loan.

Dec. 2009: Solyndra files papers with the Securities and Exchange Commission as it plans to proceed with an Initial Public Offering.

March 2010: PricewaterhouseCoopers issues a report that raises serious doubts about Solyndra's future. From the audit: “The Company has suffered recurring losses from operations, negative cash flows since inception and has a net stockholders’ deficit that, among other factors, raise substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern.”

May 2010: President Obama visits Solyndra, touting the company as a symbol of progress to cheers from workers and California leaders. “The true engine of economic growth will always be companies like Solyndra,” he said.

June 2010: Solyndra cancels its IPO. A month later, the company appoints Brian Harrison as its new CEO.

Nov. 2010: The company announces it is laying off nearly 180 full and part-time employees. By year’s end, according to the Department of Energy, Solyndra is facing a “cash flow crisis that is very common for innovative start-up companies that are growing quickly.”

Feb. 17, 2011: The House Energy and Commerce Committee and its subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations launch an investigation of Energy Department stimulus funding, with a focus on the Solyndra loan guarantee. Over the ensuing months, the House Committee and White House Office of Management and Budget engage in a scuffle over records, with the Committee subpoenaing OMB and the office turning over thousands of pages of files.

Feb. 28, 2011: Solyndra announces it has raised $75 million in financing led by the corporate entity of George Kaiser, Solyndra’s chief financial backer and a bundler of campaign donations for Obama. DOE refinances its loan to extend Solyndra’s payoff date – and agrees to put investors in line first in case of default. “The Department reached an agreement with Solyndra that gave the company and its 1100 employees a fighting chance to go forward,” DOE said.

May 24, 2011: The Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News and ABC News disclose that DOE announced its commitment to support Solyndra in March 2009 before receiving full marketing and legal reviews—a shortcut criticized by GAO auditors.

July 2011: Amid the House investigation, CEO Harrison travels to Washington to meet with members of Congress and journalists to tout Solyndra’s successes, presenting a slide show with the heading: “The real story about Solyndra.”

Aug. 1, 2011: OMB viewed the Solyndra loan as a riskier bet to taxpayers than DOE had, iWatch News reports.

Aug. 31, 2011: Solyndra shuts its doors, fires more than 1,100 full and part-time workers and announces it is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Sept. 6, 2011: Solyndra files for bankruptcy. Investors who infused the company with cash will be repaid before the government.

Sept. 7, 2011: iWatch News and ABC News report that Treasury’s loan to Solyndra carried an interest rate of 1 percent, another element in a long line of favorable treatment for the company. Energy officials say the bank set the loan and Solyndra was not given special treatment.

Sept. 8, 2011:  The FBI and Energy Department’s inspector general conduct a surprise raid on Solyndra’s office, seizing records and signaling a likely criminal probe of the company.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined comment.

Sept. 14, 2011: The House Committee on Energy and Commerce schedules a hearing on Solyndra and the DOE loan guarantee program.