Holdups on a local construction permit could scuttle the sale of a solar farm between two energy companies with deep ties to the Obama administration.
Because of an issue with the construction permit, First Solar Inc., which sold the solar farm to the Exelon Corporation in a DOE-backed deal, has yet to receive any funds from the $646 million DOE loan that was finalized in September. First Solar, one of the world’s largest solar-panel companies, has warned it may have to buy the plant back from Exelon unless the Department of Energy starts funding the loan.
Both companies have significant and longstanding connections to the Obama administration. Exelon and its employees contributed at least $71,850 to Obama during his four-year Senate career, making it the seventh-largest source of campaign money for Obama before his run for president, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
During Obama’s run for the presidency, Exelon’s employees continued to give, contributing at least $200,000 during Obama’s 2008 campaign. Exelon board member John Rogers Jr. was a top Obama bundler, hauling in at least $500,000. Bloomberg reported that former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel worked on the $8.2 billion merger that created Exelon in 2000, and former senior adviser David Axelrod had ownership in a consulting business that had Exelon as a client.
Jose Villarreal, a board member of the Center for American Progress (CAP)—a left-wing think tank closely tied to the administration that has argued strenuously for green energy loans—also sits on the board of First Solar.
Energy Department spokesman Damien LaVera told the Wall Street Journal that the agency "continues to support this project" but explained that its loan guarantees "have strict conditions in place to protect taxpayers."
The department can only disburse such funds "after all applicable permitting issues are resolved," LaVera said.
Calls to the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning, which handles local permit issues, were not returned.
If the deal falls apart, it would be yet another setback for the Department of Energy and the Obama administration’s much-touted "green energy initiative." Controversy has dogged the DOE’s loans, starting with the bankruptcy of solar company Solyndra in August 2011.
Other companies followed. Beacon Power, the recipient of a $43 million DOE loan guarantee, announced bankruptcy in October 2011. Ener1 Inc., which owns a company that received a $118 million DOE grant to make electric-car batteries, filed for bankruptcy in January. Another solar company, Amonix, received a tax credit worth roughly $6 million for a new facility in Las Vegas, but it recently announced it was laying off about 200 workers, almost two thirds of its workforce.
Many of the loan recipients had ties to the Obama administration. In fact, at least ten members of Obama’s 2008 campaign finance committee, plus more than a dozen of his campaign bundlers, benefited from Department of Energy loans.
First Solar and Exelon are obviously no exception.
Steve Spinner, a green energy investor and Obama bundler, worked at the Department of Energy as a "strategic adviser" to the loan program. After leaving the program, he took a position at the Center for American Progress, where he continued to be a cheerleader for the loan program.