Solyndra was banking on energy bill, emails show

Solyndra could still be in business had Congress passed a comprehensive energy bill last year, recently released emails indicate.

A May 2010 email exchange between senior Energy Department advisers Matt Rogers and Rod O'Connor show Solyndra's executives were "counting on" Congress passing an energy bill that would have included major policies promoting renewable energy nationwide.

In September 2009, when the Energy Department awarded a $535 million loan guarantee to the solar-power start-up, the administration and Democratic leaders in Congress were confident they could deliver on President Obama's campaign promise to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions that causes climate change.

The House narrowly passed a bill to do just that in June 2009, legislation that also included a national renewable energy standard that would have mandated an increasing percentage of the nation's energy come from renewable resources. The Senate seemed poised to take on the challenge of corralling 60 votes in the upper chamber to pass its own climate bill. But it never did.

In a May 24, 2010, email, Rogers wrote to O'Connor that Solyndra executives "have been counting on an energy bill to pass, including a renewable energy standard to ensure adequate U.S. market size." At the time, Rogers was overseeing the Energy Department's stimulus package funds, and O'Connor was Energy Secretary Steven Chu's chief of staff. Both men have since left the administration.

"The good news is that the loans that we made are allowing [Solyndra] to increase revenues and reduce production costs significantly, helping them remain competitive in a tough market," Rogers continued. "If Europe goes south and we don't see an energy bill here, they will face issues in the 18-24 month window, but the company should be strong going into the fall with their new facilities on line."

The emails were released this week by Democrats on the House Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee, the congressional panel leading Washington's probe into Solyndra.

On Aug. 31, Solyndra filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and laid off 1,100 workers. It is now under federal investigation.

Rogers also mentioned in his email to O'Connor that the price of silicon solar panels had dropped significantly. That made Solyndra's photovoltaic cylinder-shaped solar panels, which did not use silicon, even more expensive when compared to conventional solar panels.

The email exchanges between O'Connor and Rogers occurred two days before President Obama visited Solyndra's California headquarters. At the time, Senate Democratic leaders were still fighting to pass a scaled-back climate and energy bill.

"I'm going to keep fighting to pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation in Washington," Obama said at Solyndra's headquarters on May 26, 2010. "We're going to try to get it done this year, because what we want to do is create incentives that will fully unleash the potential for jobs and growth in this sector."

Almost two months after Obama visited Solyndra, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., abandoned an effort to pass a comprehensive climate bill.

This January, in his State of the Union address, Obama tried a different tack, calling on Congress to pass a "clean energy standard" that would require the country to use an increasing percentage of its energy from renewable sources, natural gas and nuclear power. That also has gone nowhere on Capitol Hill.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.