The low-risk energy generation project tack, though, is now apparently the issue for Republicans' latest attack: The DOE had no right to authorize a loan to projects that were using technology that was not innovative, and First Solar's Agua Caliente project is the proof that the DOE was ignoring the law that authorized the loans.
First Solar's thin film panels are not an innovative technology, according to Issa's statement. This much is true. While First Solar panels lack as long a track record as crystalline silicon panels in the field, First Solar panels are at this stage in the solar sector's development "yesterday's news" in the thin film technology segment.
The DOE argues that First Solar's thin film panels had not been commercially used in the U.S. at scale, and commercialization of technologies was a valid goal of the DOE loan program. In fact, the 1705 section of the DOE loan program under which most of the projects were funded was intended to allow for a mix of innovation and adoption of more mature alternative energy technologies, according to the DOE.
The truth is that arguing this point is nothing new, it's just new to a Congress that is running out of ways to keep the Solyndra story alive.
Critics of the First Solar loans -- those that actually know the clean energy sector (i.e., not the politicians) -- argued well before Solyndra went bankrupt that there was a good case to be made that First Solar should not get any DOE loans specifically because they projects were not innovative, and because First Solar could find debt financing for the projects in the capital markets. In addition, the large-scale desert projects create few long-term jobs.
As far back as July 2011, before Solyndra went bankrupt,
posed these questions
that Congress is just getting to now to the then-head of the DOE loan program.
Congress, though, wasn't paying any attention to these criticisms until now, as it tries to find some other logic to keep beating this dead horse (or dog and pony show) in an election year.
Maybe Congress shouldn't be in the job of picking winners and losers in the race to use Solyndra for political advantage. It's getting old, and amid all of the rhetorical attacks, there has been very little in the way of constructive debate about the proper role of the government in setting 21st century energy policy. That's the real problem.
-- Written by Eric Rosenbaum in New York.
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