The head of the US Department of Energy (DOE) Loan Programs Office has resigned in the midst of the controversy surrounding the bankruptcy of solar panel manufacturer Solyndra.
Jonathan Silver was the executive director of the DOE’s unit responsible for making the $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra, although he was not with the department when the guarantee was issued in September 2009.
Silver informed Energy Secretary Steven Chu of his plans to resign after the Section 1705 loan guarantee programme expired on 30 September back in July when it became clear that no significant new funds would be awarded to the programme, according to a statement by Chu.
But Silver’s resignation will not satisfy Republicans in the House of Representatives who want answers about why the loan guarantee was made despite questions being raised about the company’s financial health by rank and file government staffers.
“Mr. Silver’s resignation does not solve the problem,” said Congressman Fred Upton (R-Michigan), chairman of the House energy and commerce committee, and Cliff Stearns (R-Florida), chair of the oversight and investigations subcommittee. “We are in the midst of the Solyndra investigation and just days removed from Mr. Silver’s mad rush to finalise $4.7 billion in loans before the statutory deadline.”
The Section 1705 programme is supporting 28 projects with total loan amounts of about $16 billion, with 90% of the loan volume related to power generation projects that are backed by long-term power purchase agreements, according to the DOE.
President Barack Obama, whose administration has been under fire for the Solyndra loan guarantee, defended the programme on Thursday.
“We knew from the start that the loan guarantee programme was going to entail some risk,” he said. “If it was a risk-free proposition, then we wouldn’t have to worry about it. But the overall portfolio has been successful. There were going to be some companies that did not work out; Solyndra was one of them. But the process by which the decision was made was on the merits. And of course there were going to be debates internally when you’re dealing with something as complicated as this.”
The president also hit back at Stearns’ comments that the US can’t compete with China in the production of solar panels and wind turbines.
“I don’t buy that,” Obama said. “I’m not going to surrender to other countries technological leads that could end up determining whether or not we’re building a strong middle class in this country. And so we’re going to have to keep on pushing hard to make sure that manufacturing is located here, new businesses are located here and new technologies are developed here. And there are going to be times where it doesn’t work out, but I’m not going to cave to the competition when they are heavily subsidising all these industries.”
Silver will join centrist think-tank Third Way as a visiting distinguished senior fellow.
“There is a clear need for the US to engage in the emerging $2.3 trillion global clean energy market,” said Third Way President Jonathan Cowan. “I can think of few people better to help us think through how to do this than Jonathan.”
Silver will work on expanding the clean energy team’s innovation project. “I’m looking forward to collaborating with the team on energy policy and energy finance issues,” he said.
Prior to joining the DOE’s Loan Programs Office, Silver was co-founder and a managing director of Core Capital Partners, a successful early-stage investor in alternative energy technology, advanced manufacturing, telecommunications and software.
By. Gloria Gonzalez