In August 2009, while that risk assessment was underway, White House officials began expressing interest in having Vice President Joe Biden announce the deal during a trip to California the following month, according to emails released to House investigators this week. That spurred exchanges between officials
at the White House, the Energy Department and the OMB about whether they could speed up the final approval.
Spinner was the recipient of at least one of the emails, administration officials confirmed Friday — an Aug. 25, 2009, message from Biden's office saying that "we would want the VP [to] satellite into the event on 9/4. It's the same day the unemployment numbers come out, and we'd want to use this as an example where the Recovery Act is helping create new high tech jobs."
Spinner forwarded the email to another Energy Department staffer, who responded that she thought the event was scheduled for Sept. 8.
Spinner, who left the department a year ago, remains an enthusiastic proponent of the loan guarantees. In an op-ed he co-wrote on the blog ThinkProgress on July 13, he urged Congress to appropriate more money to the effort, calling it "an outright success."
"Even the most controversial loan guarantee recipient — Solyndra, a solar manufacturer — is seeing an operational turnaround," he wrote with Richard Caperton, a senior policy analyst at Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank where Spinner is a
senior fellow. He did not
disclose in the piece that he had played a role in the program.
Two months later, after the department declined to restructure the loan a second time, Solyndra declared bankruptcy. By that time, $527 million in taxpayer money that Solyndra borrowed from the Federal Financing Bank, operated under the supervision of the Treasury Department, had been disbursed to the company — funds that the government may not be able to recoup.
Separately, lawmakers in Sacramento questioned a $27-million tax break given to Solyndra under a state law intended to encourage clean-energy companies to do business in California.
State Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), who co-wrote the bill, said he planned to examine the tax break at a hearing this fall.
"We're certainly revisiting the due diligence that was done before an award was given," he said.
Assemblyman Brian Nestande (R-Palm Desert) said he intended to ask Treasurer Bill Lockyer's staff to explain "what their vetting process was."
The law, which was approved unanimously by the state Senate and Assembly and signed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in March 2010, exempts qualified clean-technology companies from paying sales tax when buying manufacturing equipment.
The law established a committee to review applications from companies that sought the tax breaks. In November, Solyndra applied for a credit that would allow it to avoid paying nearly $35 million in sales tax on the purchase of more than $380 million of equipment.
The request was granted, but the company used only $27 million of the credit before it went out of business, said Joe DeAnda, a Lockyer spokesman.
Solyndra also received other indirect benefits from state agencies.
Under the California Solar Initiative, a program created by Schwarzenegger and the Legislature, customers that bought Solyndra-manufactured solar-power modules received about $4.9 million in state subsidies, according to Terrie Prosper, a spokeswoman for the California Public Utilities Commission.
Prosper emphasized that the state subsidies went to Solyndra's customers and not to the company, which is how the program works.
Gold reported from Washington and Pfeifer from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Marc Lifsher in Sacramento contributed to this report.