The renewable energy industry is facing a watershed moment, and many firms are taking the traditional route to safety — by calling on K Street for help.
The collapse of the solar company Solyndra — which announced it would file for bankruptcy at the end of August after receiving a visit from President Barack Obama and a $535 million loan guarantee from the federal government — is under investigation by the oversight arm of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The FBI raided its offices in September at the beginning of a criminal probe. A separate inquiry is under way at the Treasury Department.
Solyndra’s implosion has become a talking point for Congressional Republicans, who are busy subpoenaing White House correspondence to search for signs that the administration continued to push for government incentives for the company after its weak financial state was known. Solyndra’s failure has been cited as a reason to kill government-loan guarantee programs in order to offset the cost of disaster relief. It is now the poster child for “How Obama’s Green Energy Agenda Is Killing Jobs,” according to the title of a Sept. 22 House Oversight and Government Reform Committee meeting.
As the government’s energy initiatives come under attack, stakeholders are making sure their priorities in Washington are known — more than 40 companies and other groups have hired lobbyists to work on energy issues since the beginning of August.
“Solyndra is unfortunate,” said Kara Saul Rinaldi, founder and president of the AnnDyl Policy Group, an energy and environmental policy strategy firm. “Unfortunately, right now, we’re faced with a Congress that is hesitant to spend money on clean energy — or on anything. My clients are asking, ‘Will Congress act? Can we get investment in real green jobs? Can we put forward tax credits?’ We are in a political situation that is just so difficult.”
The implications of the Solyndra situation were not lost on the Solar Energy Industries Association, which on Sept. 19 added a fact sheet to its website titled “Behind the Solyndra Headlines” to accompany others on the trade association’s history and facts about the solar industry.
“Despite the Solyndra bankruptcy, the Department of Energy’s Loan Guarantee Program helps make solar power cheaper and more affordable for businesses and homeowners. Throughout our history, every energy resource in America has enjoyed federal support including oil, nuclear, natural gas, coal, and, just recently, renewables,” it said in making the case for continued loan guarantees.
The association said the industry’s focus will now be on ensuring the extension of a Treasury Department program started in 2009 that allows energy developers to receive a federal grant in lieu of claiming a tax credit.
“At a time when President Obama and Congress are looking for solutions for America’s jobs crisis, it would be unconscionable to allow this proven job-creating program to expire,” Rhone Resch, the SEIA president and CEO, said in a statement. “Killing the 1603 Program amounts to a tax increase on the thousands of small businesses that are creating jobs in solar.”
The association is releasing a report today that estimates a one-year extension of the program that would result in the creation of more than 37,000 jobs in 2012.