WASHINGTON Oct 10 U.S. Republican lawmakers on
Wednesday pressed the Obama administration for more information
about its decision to back, and then stop funding, a
now-bankrupt solar company, with a report now saying the company
may have been selling a faulty product.
The request from leaders of the Republican-led House Energy
and Commerce committee marked the latest probe of the
administration's energy loan program, which has become a
lightning rod for critics after the high profile failure of
solar panel maker Solyndra.
Abound Solar, another solar manufacturer in the program,
filed for bankruptcy in July after receiving about $70 million
of its $400 million loan guaranteed by the government.
At the time Abound cited intense competition from Chinese
panel makers as the reason for the company's collapse, but a
report from The Daily Caller website said internal documents
show Abound's panels were defective.
"Recent reports and publicly available documents indicate
that persistent technological problems contributed to Abound's
inability to remain commercially viable and, ultimately, its
bankruptcy," said Republican Congressmen Fred Upton, Energy and
Commerce committee chairman, Cliff Stearns and Cory Gardner in a
letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
The Daily Caller report said the panels were underperforming
and prone to catch fire. The website was founded by Tucker
Carlson, a conservative commentator, and Neil Patel, who was an
adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney.
In their letter, the lawmakers questioned what the Energy
Department knew about these technological problems before
awarding Abound's loan and whether these issues played any role
in the department's decision to cut off funding for the project
in August 2011.
Prior to finalizing the loan for Abound, a
department-commissioned engineering report found "performance
shortfalls" with the company's panels, the lawmakers said.
So far, the funding received by the three bankrupt companies
- including Beacon Power, an energy storage company - in the
loan program represents less than 4 percent of the $16 billion
in loans the program backed.
The Energy Department has defended its investment in Abound
Solar, saying the company was an "innovative" manufacturer that
suffered from the precipitous drop in solar panel costs.
An Energy Department official said the administration has
already provided Congress with more than 1 million pages of
documents as part of Republicans' extensive review of the loan
program, including the independent engineering and market
analyses used to evaluate Abound.