DOE May Have Cut Corners for $1.6 Billion First Solar Loan


GOP members say the Energy Department cut corners to approve a $1.6 billion loan to an Arizona solar firm with ties to the Obama administration. The inquiry into loans to First Solar, which both makes solar panels and assembles solar-energy facilities, is the latest accusation in Republicans’ long-running investigation into the Energy Department’s green energy loan program.

ABC News reports:

In order to receive the loan money, First Solar had to provide evidence that each project would employ new and innovative technologies to generate energy. Republican investigators said Friday the records they reviewed raised doubts about whether the solar facilities actually do that. Among the documents they cite is an email from a top technical expert inside the department, written less than six weeks before the loans to First Solar were approved, in which he argues that one of the supposed advances -- use of something called a "single axis tracker" -- was actually not all that new.

"Be clear this is not an innovation," wrote Dong K. Kim, the director of the loan program's technical division. "The record will show we did not grade this as an innovation."

Further, Kim writes that "someone keeps changing" internal documents to hold out the tracking technology as innovative. And he warns that "whoever continues to make this change needs to understand that Technical does not support [identifying the trackers] as an innovative component."

A Government Accountability Office report issued last week found the Energy Department loan program skipped steps in its review process when evaluating loans, while in some cases it was impossible to determine if the review steps were even completed.

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—sits on the board of First Solar.

Republicans are expected to grill Energy Secretary Steven Chu tomorrow over the First Solar loan at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.