Power Politics

Emails show direct link between White House and energy loans, GOP says

May 16, 2012

New emails obtained by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform show a direct link between the Department of Energy's controversial green energy loan program and the White House, Republicans on the committee said Wednesday.

The White House and Energy Department have long held there was no political influence in the decision-making process that awarded billions of dollars in federal loan guarantees to renewable energy companies. However, emails disclosed at the hearing reference to communications with the White House.

House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) said the emails are the first in the committee's more than yearlong investigation that show a direct link between the White House and the decision to award the loan guarantees.

"Department of Energy's credibility is thin, and I'm currently trying to put off communications with people on the Hill," Brightsource CEO John Woolard wrote to Matt Rogers, senior adviser to the secretary of energy for the Recovery Act.

Brightsource received a conditional loan guarantee worth $1.6 billion in taxpayer dollars to build a solar farm in California.

"Also, Darbee at PG&E talked directly to Obama about the program's challenges and the bad situation it puts him in," Woolard wrote in the email.

That was a reference to Peter Darbee, the former CEO of Pacific Gas and Electric.

PG&E has entered into power purchase agreements with Brightsource for its new solar project. As previously reported by the Free Beacon, PG&E is an aggressive purchaser of renewable power in California and has a formidable presence on Capitol Hill. The company has spent $82.3 million on lobbying since 2008, and the company’s political action committee has given nearly $380,000 to Democrats since 2008.

House Republicans grilled Woolard at the hearing.

"Wait a minute, just a second ago you told me there was no political influence in this decision, and yet in an email you sent to the guy making the decision you reference the president of the United States," Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) said.

The committee also revealed that Woolard had sent an email to Jonathan Silver, executive director of the Energy Department loan program, asking him to look over a letter drafted by Woolard and then-Brightsource chairman John Bryson. The pair intended to send the letter to former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley. According to Woolard, the letter was ultimately never sent.

"I believe that everything we did in our project was fully on the merits," Woolard said. "It was a very solid project."

Bryson later was appointed Commerce Secretary. In previous testimony before the committee, Bryson denied he had any communications with the White House regarding the loan guarantee.

Bryson would be invited to speak before the committee again to clarify his testimony, Issa said, since "it's clear that there was direct conversation leading to a form of favoritism for Brightsource."

According to financial disclosures, Bryson had up to $500,000 in stock options from BrightSource and a $700,000 advisory fee from Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, an investment group that has bought a number of solar farms in California.

He was also the CEO of Edison International, which obtained exclusive power purchase agreements for four other solar projects that received lucrative grants from the federal government.

Companies represented at the hearing included Abound Solar, Nevada Geothermal Power, BrightSource Energy, First Solar, Solar 3D, and Capital-E.