U.S. Offers $535 Million Loan Toward Solar Energy Plant

By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 21, 2009

Energy Secretary Steven Chu yesterday offered a $535 million federal loan guarantee for Solyndra Inc. to support the construction of a manufacturing plant for the four-year-old company's photovoltaic panels made of tiny cylindrical collection tubes.

Chu said the project would put 3,000 people to work. Kelly Truman, Solyndra's vice president of marketing, sales and business development, said that, when finished, the plant would directly employ more than 500 people while others would get work with firms doing installation.

The loan guarantee would be the first ever extended under a program approved by Congress in 2005. The program has been bogged down while awaiting a congressional appropriation and later by the Energy Department's approval process.

The money for this guarantee came from money appropriated in the Obama stimulus package, which could finance as much as $60 billion in loan guarantees. There is another $38.5 billion in unused loan guarantees authorized during the Bush administration.

Chu has vowed to streamline the approval process and reduce the amount of application materials required. Some applications have run more than 1,000 pages, but Chu has said they should not need to run more than 50. "I'm trying to scale the timeline down from several years to four months," Chu said at an energy conference hosted by The Washington Post. "We really think we can accelerate the process."

Solyndra's Truman said the company filed its initial loan proposal at the end of 2006 and a lengthier application more than a year later. The Energy Department said its loan guarantee could cover no more than 73 percent of the new plant's cost.

Solyndra must provide the remaining 27 percent; Truman said Solyndra's private equity would readily do so. "We're delighted," he said. This would be Solyndra's second plant and it would eventually produce solar panels capable of producing 500 megawatts a year.

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