Obama Solyndra Solar Plant Visit Clouded By Controversy

Posted:
05/26/10
A dark cloud has settled over the President's trip to sunny Northern California today, and it has everything to do with his photo-op to promote jobs purportedly saved and created by the Recovery act at solar panel production company Solyndra.

President Obama toured the Solyndra plant in Freemont, Calif. and gave an address before the press and state officials, including California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, outlining his vision for a thriving U.S. alternative energy sector buoyed by government funding.

"The promise of clean energy isn't just an article of faith," Obama said, "It's not just some abstract possibility for science fiction movies or a distant future or 10 years down the road or 20 years, it's happening right now. The future is here."

But while the President's remarks were intended to inspire confidence in the U.S. alternative energy sector and reinforce the economic benefits of "green jobs" as the country climbs out of recession, it instead generated another, less favorable story line:

"Construction workers at the Solyndra Plant in Fremont will be spending the day at home Wednesday without pay as President Obama visits the company to praise its work on solar panels," reported local news channel KRON 4 (via Real Clear Politics).

What's more, Solyandra, a five-year-old company, has faced dire financial straights and had just recently undergone an audit, according to BNet.
As Solyndra's own CEO points out in an open letter response to the audit, Solyndra's future does depend on finding more financing, either through an IPO or privately. If it doesn't, the leading question about what happens to revolutionary companies that fail, at the top of this post, will get an answer. When big expectations lead to big disappointments, entire industries can be affected.
The White House blog, by contrast, proudly trumpets the fact that Solyndra's closure was averted by a $535 million dollar loan from the Department of Energy last year.

In addition, the President's visit came during an especially precarious political climate for energy policy reform:

1. BP is still struggling to close off its undersea well that has already spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Atlantic -- this time via a new, riskier "top kill" method.

2. As Politico notes: "A bipartisan group of senators will move after the Memorial Day recess on a resolution to block the Environmental Protection Agency's regulation of greenhouse gases."

3. On a separate but relevant note: Republicans have not responded well to the President's most recent overture of bipartisanship on immigration reform, even calling a meeting with him this morning "testy."

With Republicans looking to block Obama agenda items in the run up to the November elections, it seems that no photo op -- even if gaffe-free -- will get the Congressional GOP behind any new proposed energy or climate change legislation, the latter of which the president has said he would spend the rest of the year fighting to pass.