The Department of Energy was fully aware of the risks in backing Solyndra Inc., a start-up company that pocketed a half-billion dollar DOE loan but never turned a penny in profit before shutting its doors, concludes a former FBI agent hired to examine the company’s books.
The expert’s report, filed this week in Solyndra’s voluminous bankruptcy case in California, could embolden critics who say the government ignored financial red flags in supporting the solar panel maker with President Obama’s maiden green energy loan in 2009.
The $535 million loan, which bankrolled a vast new manufacturing plant in Fremont, Calif., was part of a broad government mission to kick-start the clean energy movement: Solyndra’s unique solar panels would cover commercial rooftops across the country, aiding the environment and boosting the economy.
Yet the company collapsed under a sea of debt and a business plan that, amid dramatic shifts in the global solar market, caused it to sell far fewer panels at far higher costs than envisioned. From 2009-11, it cost Solyndra $3.92 more per watt to make its panels than to sell them, the bankruptcy report shows.
Solyndra filed for bankruptcy Sept.6, 2011. Two days later, it faced a raid by agents from the FBI and the Energy Department inspector general. With those clouds looming, the company’s board hired R. Todd Neilson — the former federal agent and veteran trustee in bankruptcy cases — as chief restructuring officer.
Solyndra’s board wanted a CRO to not only manage its bankruptcy case, but to explore whether the company committed misdeeds on its road to collapse. “In light of the Federal criminal investigation and ongoing Congressional investigation … the Subcommittee agreed that the CRO would act in an independent capacity in determining if any improprieties had occurred with respect to the Debtors’ finances,” Neilson’s report said.