WASHINGTON – In April 2009, Rep. Jared Polis wrote to Energy Secretary Steven Chu to urge him to approve an application that an innovative clean energy company had submitted for a federal loan guarantee. The Boulder Democrat’s letter described the Loveland, Colo-based maker of solar panels as a “major success story” unable to secure more private financing because of the recession.
“Abound Solar is a showcase for the positive impact that progressive government policies and initiatives can have on the economy, national energy security, and the environment,” Polis wrote in the letter, dated April 20. “PV modules manufactured by Abound will translate to cleaner energy supplies from domestic sources, economic strength, and U.S. leadership.”
Abound Solar’s loan application stalled through the spring and summer of 2009. Three days before the first day of winter, all seven Democrats in Colorado’s congressional delegation wrote a follow-up letter to Polis’ earlier one.
Their missive complained that the agency took too long to review loan applicants’ finances, and it cited Abound as an example of the harm that can result. “While the DOE continues to consider this project, delays associated with the application process have pushed the project back, potentially harming its market position and delaying the creation of high-paying U.S. manufacturing jobs and the growth of the renewable enegy sector,” they wrote in their letter, dated Dec. 18.
Neither of the two then-Colorado House Republicans joined his Democratic counterparts in signing the letter. Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs and Mike Coffman of Lone Tree declined to add their names.
Five Indiana Republicans were signatories to a letter that was similar to that of Polis.’ On October 30, 2009, 10 members of Indiana’s congressional delegation, including its Republican senator and four of its five GOP House members, wrote to Chu to share their “strong support and encouragement” for Abound’s revised application, noting that the solar-panel maker had a “comprehensive long-term plan for production …” Only Rep. Steve Buyer, a Republican, did not sign his name to the missive.
The letters reveal that congressional Democrats, and five Indiana Republicans, did not examine Abound Solar’s ability to stay in business. Instead of describing the manufacturer’s business model or plans, the letters broach them. Polis’ letter summarizes the firm’s environmental plans and technological products, but his letter and the two others emphasize the various benefits if Abound’s application were approved.
Abound Solar did not turn out as its congressional backers hoped. After it secured a $68 million loan in 2010, the company announced this February that it would lay off 280 workers from its Longmont plant and on June 28 it would file for bankruptcy and lay off its remaining 125 employees.
Leading conservatives have criticized the Department of Energy for not reviewing the finances of clean energy companies that applied for loan guarantees more seriously. In Abound’s case, they note that the Fitch Group’s credit ratings gave its loan a 45 out of 100, a low score that cast doubt on the solar panel maker’s ability to turn a profit.
Progressives offer a different story of the loan-program’s failures. Last October, President Obama told ABC News that Solyndra, another solar panel manufacturer, “went through the regular process and people felt it was a good bet.”
House Republicans introduced legislation last week to end federal subsidies to renewable energy companies. While leading House Republicans say they expect the bill to pass in the GOP-controlled chamber, Senate Democrats are unlikely to approve of the bill in the chamber they control.