Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee released a 14-page memo Tuesday that appears to show that Department of Energy officials urged solar manufacturer Solyndra to hold off on announcing layoffs last year until after the hotly contested midterm elections.
The memo serves as a road map for the line of questioning Republicans plan to pursue when U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu appears before the bipartisan committee Thursday. Chu's highly-anticipated testimony will be the fourth congressional hearing on the failed Fremont solar panel maker to date, and he will be questioned about his role in Solyndra's federal loan guarantee and the controversial decision to restructure the terms of the loan earlier this year.
Solyndra was awarded a $535 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy in 2009, then filed for bankruptcy in September of this year, throwing more than 1,000 employees out of work.
Solyndra's board of directors brought in Brian Harrison as CEO in July 2010, and Harrison was under pressure to cut costs and make the struggling company cash-flow positive. According to the memo, Solyndra executives informed the Energy Department in October 2010 that Solyndra was in danger of running out of cash in November. On Oct. 25, Harrison emailed the department that he would like to go forward with plans to tell employees of impending layoffs.
The email was forwarded by Energy Department staffers to Chu's chief of staff and Vice President Joe Biden's chief of staff, among others. Energy Department officials apparently then urged Solyndra and its largest venture capital investor to hold off on the announcement until Nov. 3 -- the day after congressional midterm elections. House Republicans say that several emails from Argonaut Private Equity, Solyndra's largest investor, indicate the layoff announcement was postponed because of the Nov. 2 election.
The news of Solyndra's plan to shutter its old plant and lay off workers was first reported in the Nov. 3 edition of The New York Times. Solyndra announced it would lay off about 40 full-time employees and 150 contract workers as it closed its original factory and consolidated manufacturing into a new facility built with the help of the federal loan guarantee.
"They did push very hard for us to hold our announcement of the consolidation to employees and vendors to Nov. 3 -- oddly, they didn't give a reason for that date," said an Oct. 30 email between Argonaut staff.
While the new memo from House Republicans references several emails, the full emails were not released.
The memo also includes new details about the controversial decision to restructure Solyndra's loan earlier this year in a way that made the government's debt obligation secondary to a $75 million loan by Argonaut and Madrone Capital. The memo says Chu met with Jacob Lew, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, in late January to talk about the loan program and Solyndra.
The memo is the latest in a string of documents that highlight how politically sensitive Solyndra -- once the poster child for federal stimulus funds and the promise of green jobs -- had become for the Obama administration. But while the Department of Energy has turned over more than 180,000 pages of documents, no evidence has emerged that Solyndra was awarded its loan guarantee because of political favoritism.
Contact Dana Hull at 408-920-2706. Follow her at Twitter.com/danahull.