GOP claims that the Obama administration’s green energy loan guarantee program is mired in cronyism grew on Friday after a company tied to Nancy Pelosi
’s brother-in-law got the lion’s share of the final government hand-outs made before Friday’s end of the fiscal year.
The decision to guarantee $737 million comes hard on the heels of the loss of more than $500 million of government money due to the bankruptcy of solar panel company Solyndra.
The new grant went to Tonopah Solar Energy, a subsidiary of SolarReserve, which started building Crescent Dunes, a massive solar-thermal plant in the Nevada desert in early September.
One of SolarReserve’s major financial backers is the PCG Clean Energy & Technology Fund (East), whose second-in-command is Ronald Pelosi, the brother of the House Minority leader’s husband, Paul. Another investor is Argonaut Private Equity, a company that lost heavily in the Solyndra debacle.
Already one Republican member of the House Energy and Commerce promised Newsmax that he will be keeping a close eye on the loan to SolarReserve. “You had better believe it is going to be looked at,” said Texas Rep. Michael Burgess.
“With Solyndra, they got into trouble because they were rushing because they wanted a photo-op,” said Burgess referring to accusations that that agreement was rushed through so Vice President Joe Biden could announce it when he visited the company’s headquarters.
“Now they have pushed around one-third of the loan guarantee program out of the door in the last four or five days of the fiscal year and that sounds to me like they were going to be rushing.”
Burgess said there has so far been no suggestion that the guarantee was given due to cronyism, but he told Newsmax, “How can they be so tone deaf to do this right now when there is scrutiny on this program? They are putting other solar and wind projects at risk if they continue to behave in this dismissive way.”
Others too questioned the grants. Texas GOP Rep. Joe Barton, former chairman of the Energy Committee called for closer investigation before more money is paid out. “Are these good investments or political favors?” he asked. “The American people just lost a half billion dollars and they deserve answers to these questions before more money is wasted.”
And the conservative Weekly Standard wrote, “It's increasingly hard to tell the government's green jobs subsidies apart from the Democrats' friends and family rewards program.”
Ronald Pelosi, 76, is a member of one of California’s most powerful Democratic families. He is a former president of both the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the San Francisco Planning Commission as well as sitting on many other boards in the Bay City. His nephew Gavin Newsom is currently the Lieutenant Governor of California.
Pelosi joined PCG this past spring and his biography on the company website describes him as having “an extensive background in the securities industry, mutual funds, and private equity.”
Argonaut’s links to both SolarReserve and Solyndra are being closely examined by Republicans. The fund is headed by George Kaiser, a major Democratic donor. Argonaut’s managing director Steve Mitchell sat on the Solyndra board and is a “board participant” at SolarReserve.
Under the Crescent Dunes plan, more than 17,000 specially designed mirrors will collect the sun’s energy and focus it to heat molten salt, which will flow from a 640-ft. tower to produce steam to run a turbine that will generate electricity.
Once the project is online in 2013, excess energy will be stored in the salt for up to 10 hours so power can still be generated at night. Backers say the project will prevent 290,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere annually and produce enough electricity for 43,000 homes.
In announcing the grant, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Crescent Dunes will be the “first of its kind in the United States and the tallest molten salt tower in the world.” He said the project will provide employment for 600 construction workers – although the company’s own website puts that number at “400-500” – and create 45 permanent jobs.
“If we want to be a player in the global clean energy race, we must continue to invest in innovative technologies that enable commercial-scale deployment of clean, renewable power like solar,” added Chu.
“Solar generation facilities, like the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project, help supply energy to local utilities and create hundreds of good, American clean energy jobs.”
Just hours before the announcement of the Crescent Dunes loan Republican Rep. Cliff Stearns, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Oversight Subcommittee expressed concern that the government was rushing payments to meet a Sept. 30 deadline.
“The deadline has been on the calendar since the stimulus was signed into law in February 2009, which means DOE has known exactly how much time it had to perform due diligence and approve guarantees for fully vetted and worthy entities,” said the Florida congressman.
“The administration's flagship project Solyndra is bankrupt and being investigated by the FBI, the promised jobs never materialized and now DOE is preparing to rush out nearly $5 billion in loans in the final 48 hours before stimulus funds expire,” added Stearns. “That's nearly $105 million every hour that must be finalized until the deadline.
“Solyndra was the product of a bad bet rushed out the door and taxpayers are now on the hook. We cannot afford DOE rushing out more Solyndras in these final hours.”
The Solyndra scandal has cost taxpayers $535 million following the company’s bankruptcy in early September. The company, whose principals have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democratic causes is now being investigated by the FBI for fraud.
Last week CEO Brian Harrison and chief financial officer Bill Stover repeatedly invoked their Fifth Amendment rights not to testify when they appeared before the full House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Panel chairman, Rep. Fred Upton attacked the decision to give Solyndra the loan guarantee calling it "reckless use of taxpayer dollars on a company that was known to pose serious risks before a single dime went out the door."
“It appears we have a great heist of over half a billion dollars and ... maybe even co-conspirators called the U.S. government," added Upton.
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