The program’s congressionally approved funding expired at midnight Friday as the federal fiscal year ended. The effort to commit money before the books closed came at a delicate time for the Energy Department, which for weeks has battled allegations that it erred by rushing to extend a guarantee to Solyndra.
Republican lawmakers have charged that the Solyndra debacle occurred because the department failed to properly vet its first big project in the early days of the program. As the deadline neared for committing funds, the department closed half of its deals in the final two months.
The projects approved Friday were a $1.2 billion loan guarantee for a “solar ranch” project in California; a $1.4 billion guarantee for a rooftop solar-generation project; a $1.5 billion guarantee to support development of one of the world’s largest solar photovoltaic plants; and a $646 million thin-film solar-generation project.
Solyndra won a $535 million loan guarantee in September 2009 and was repeatedly praised by President Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu. But the company collapsed without warning in August, putting 1,100 people out of work and leaving taxpayers liable for the loan. Last month, FBI agents raided the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters and seized files and computer records as part of an investigation into suspected accounting fraud and misrepresentation of finances.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Friday that, despite criticism of the loan guarantee program, Chu retains the president’s “full confidence.”
“Obviously, ultimately the head of that department is responsible for it, but let’s be clear: There were numerous people involved who were career professionals and work on those kinds of issues every day,” Carney said.
Chu said in a statement that he considered the newly announced projects to be “remarkable” in their innovation and “critical” to creating clean energy jobs.
“To win the clean energy race we must invest in projects like this that fund jobs and increase the generation of clean, renewable power in the U.S.,” Chu said. “Innovation and investments in America’s clean energy future are critical to our continued competitiveness in the global market.”
An Energy Department statement stressed that the projects were closed only after extensive reviews to assess their potential for financial, technological and market success.
“We are confident that supporting these projects will help American companies compete in the global clean energy market,” the statement said.