The Washington Post

Solyndra investment was tough call, says former Bush official turned energy investor

On Tuesday morning, the White House tweeted this from communications director Dan Pfeiffer: “RE Solyndra:From what I know of the facts right now I prob would have made the same decision. said Walter Howes - Bush’s Loan Guarantee Dir.”

Howes was indeed the director of George W. Bush’s Energy Department’s loan programs.

FREMONT, CA - MAY 26: Ben Bierman (left) and Chris Gronet (right) explain solar technology to U.S. President Barack Obama on a tour of the Solyndra solar panel company May 26, 2010 in Fremont, California. (Photo by Paul Chinn-Pool/Getty Images) (Pool/GETTY IMAGES)

But there is one key detail Pfeiffer omitted from his Twitter audience.

Howes is now managing partner at Verdigris Capital, a private equity partnership focused on “sustainable solutions” in energy, transportation, agriculture, construction and information management. A key part of his role is helping clients take advantage of the 2009 stimulus bill and the Energy Department’s grant and loan guarantee programs.

In June 2009, he gave a speech called “Stimulus Funding -- Nuts and Bolts, Inside Ball” at a Denver conference. “Financing domestic-based energy resources with U.S. (vs. foreign) debt is one of the best hedges the country can make,” he said.

At the end of his presentation, Howes listed the elements of a “mutual value proposition” for Verdigris and its clients.

Among the things Verdigris brought to the table: “Working knowledge of DOE.” Among the things Verdigris was seeking: “equity returns with leverage; high growth opportunities; synergy in clean tech; build project portfolio.”

In the latest twist in the Solyndra controversy, administration officials and outside advisers warned that President Obama should consider dropping plans to visit a solar startup company in 2010 because its mounting financial problems might ultimately embarrass the White House, e-mails show.

Solyndra defaulted on a $535 million federal loan guarantee in 2009; Republicans say the loan was granted for political reasons, a charge the White House denies.

Energy Secretary Chu takes responsibility for Solyndra problems

DOE learned of Solyndra default in 2010

Top Solyndra officials take the 5th

Steven Mufson covers the White House. Since joining The Post, he has covered economics, China, foreign policy and energy.


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