Although Wednesday’s announcement came as a surprise, House Republicans and government auditors had questioned the wisdom of the administration’s loan guarantees to the company, backed by capital from billionaire Democratic fundraiser George Kaiser. In July, a House subcommittee subpoenaed White House documents related to the guarantee, and after Wednesday’s developments, Republican lawmakers vowed to continue investigating.
Solyndra officials said in a news release that they were suspending operations and planned to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The move would give the company time to evaluate options, including selling the business or licensing its technology to other companies.
“This was an unexpected outcome and is most unfortunate,” Solyndra chief executive Brian Harrison said in a statement. “Regulatory and policy uncertainties” made it impossible to raise capital to quickly rescue the operation, he said.
The White House said that it remained committed to building an economy based on clean technology.
“While we are disappointed by this particular outcome, we continue to believe the clean energy jobs race is one that America can, must and will win,” it said in a statement. “The Department of Energy’s overall portfolio of investments — which includes dozens of other companies — continues to perform well and is on pace to create thousands of jobs.”
Wednesday’s announcement came amid a broader shakeout in the solar industry. Energy Department officials said that less expensive solar panels made by government-subsidized companies in China undercut Solyndra’s products.
“We have always recognized that not every one of the innovative companies supported by our loans and loan guarantees would succeed,” Energy Department spokesman Dan Leistikow said in a statement. “But we can’t stop investing in game-changing technologies that are key to America’s leadership in the global economy.”
The Treasury Department provided Solyndra’s loan, on the assurance of the Energy Department. The terms were reviewed in advance by the White House Office of Management and Budget, and almost all of the $535 million has been disbursed to Solyndra.
Taxpayers might be on the hook for most of the loan if Solyndra is unable to repay, said experts in the stimulus and loan guarantee program. The Energy Department could seek repayment in court, but receiving more than a nominal amount is unlikely because of the company’s depleted cash and assets.
“Congress recognized the risks inherent in such an effort and wisely set aside funding to offset any potential defaults or losses,” Leistikow’s statement said.