Republicans on a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee Thursday authorized subpoenas for internal White House communications related to a half-billion dollar taxpayer loan guarantee for the failed solar company Solyndra.

In a first, the subcommittee’s Republicans said they took the step after failing to get to the bottom of why Solyndra, which collapsed in August and is now under criminal investigation, was selected to receive the Obama administration’s first loan guarantee under the 2009 economic stimulus program.

The Solyndra scandal has caused headaches for the Obama administration, the Energy Department and Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Speaking Thursday at the Washington Post Live Smart Energy Conference in Washington, Chu said loan programs like the one that funded Solyndra are necessary to drive economic growth.

“America faces a choice today,” he said. “Are we going to recognize the opportunity and compete in the clean energy race, or will we wave the white flag and watch all the jobs go to China, Korea, Germany, and other countries in Asia or Europe?

“The global competition is fierce, and support for innovative technologies comes with inherent risk. Not every company, not every product will succeed. But there’s no reason to sit on the sidelines and concede leadership in clean energy.”

And if Chu were handed a new pot of stimulus money today, what might he do differently?

“I think what one could do differently is you start with the idea that we — Congress and the Administration — can design a better loan program, a loan program that shares in the upside,” Chu said Thursday in response to a question. “There is a recognition in Congress when they wrote the statute that not all the loans would succeed, but we think we can design a program so that it could actually be self-pay and still stimulate the most innovative industries.”

“Going forward, I think knowing what we knew at the time doing these things, I think one has to take risks in order to promote innovative manufacturing,” Chu said. “I’s a very important part of the history of the United States. Other countries are doing this. We just have to go forward. We can perhaps learn, but always go forward, just as I said about research.”

And does Chu, the Nobel-winning physicist, ever swap Nobel stories with President Obama (Nobel Peace Prize, 2009)?

“Oh, we can’t do that,” Chu said. “That’s a secret handshake.”

Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Further reading:

Solyndra: House panel subpoenas internal White House documents

Energy Department couldn’t manage stimulus money, watchdog says

For more, visit PostPolitics and The Fed Page.