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Bankruptcy Court Report: Solyndra Did Not Mislead DOE

| March 28, 2012
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If we looked more closely, could we have seen signs Solyndra was headed for bankruptcy? (Credit: Solyndra)

Has it really only been half a year since Solyndra suspended operations?

At one time, Solyndra was soaring above the rooftops, a green energy darling making thin film solar photovoltaic power systems for large commercial and industrial rooftops. “Clever product!” analysts and investors said. “Big potential market!” “Who doesn’t love Fremont?” OK, that last thought was mostly expressed by people in the Bay Area, but the excitement was genuine.

Then the price of Chinese solar panels dropped, and Solyndra’s fortunes faded fast. (There’s more on this rise and fall at the California Report’s old blog Shifting Gears.)

After the collapse, new questions cropped up. Solyndra got a $535 million loan guarantee from the Energy Department. It was the first loan guarantee of a kind authorized by a bill President George W. Bush signed into law in 2005. Did Solyndra mislead the Department of Energy about its financial health?

Although today’s report doesn’t touch on the political maelstrom that followed, Fortune assesses it rather economically in its write-up about the report:

Vice President Joe Biden and Energy Secretary Chu presided at the groundbreaking of Solyndra’s Fab 2 facility in Fremont, California, in a photo opp that they would come to rue. In his remarks, Biden laid the credit for the loan guarantee and construction launch squarely on the Obama Administration’s 200-day-old Recovery Act legislation, downplaying the role of the 2005 legislation and the nearly two-and-a-half-year process that had actually led up to this moment. Thus, Biden unwittingly inflated a political football that would soon grow to the size of a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day float.

A flock of investigators swarmed into Fremont. They came from the FBI, the Department of Energy Office of Inspector General, the regional US Attorney’s office…even Congress.

Last but not least, there came ex-FBI agent R. Todd Neilson. Solyndra’s board hired him to be the the company’s chief restructuring officer, and to deliver a report for the benefit of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Delaware – and Solyndra’s creditors.

“I approach anything with a healthy skepticism and with an understanding that I should look at things anew without the baggage of other opinions people may have,” Todd Neilson told the Wall Street Journal’s blog, Bankruptcy Beat.

Today, his 204 page report on Solyndra is filed and available to the public. You’ll want the bullet points:

  • Construction costs were correctly recorded in the accounting records and no material funds were diverted from their original intended use.
  • The DOE had sufficient information to understand the risks and challenges … and make an informed decision as to the ongoing financial condition of Solyndra.
  • All of the funds drawn under the DOE Loan Guarantee were spent in accordance with the relevant loan documents.
  • The information provided to the DOE, as certified, was materially correct when compared to the audited financial statements of PWC (PricewaterhouseCoopers).
  • The actual calculations used by the company to compute and pay cash bonuses are within materially acceptable limits.

Neilson attempted to conduct informal interviews of Solyndra’s former Chief Executive Officers, Dr. Chris Gronet and Brian Harrison. Both declined.

But for those who were waiting for a smoking solar panel, the upshot is … you won’t find it in this report.

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Category: Economy, Environment, Law and Justice, Politics and Government, Technology

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About the Author ()

Rachael Myrow hosts the California Report for KQED. Over 17 years in public radio, she's worked for Marketplace and KPCC, filed for NPR and The World, and developed a sizable tea collection that's become the envy of the KQED newsroom. She specializes in politics, economics and history in California - but for emotional balance, she also covers food and its relationship to health and happiness. Reach Rachael Myrow at rmyrow@kqed.org.

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