Bloomberg News

Solyndra’s Refinancing Would Have Given U.S. a 40% Stake

November 07, 2011

(Updates with comment from Lazard’s Bilicic in fourth paragraph.)

Nov. 3 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama’s administration considered a plan to save Solyndra LLC that would have left the U.S. with as much as 40 percent equity and two seats on the company’s board, according to e-mails.

The administration documents were sent yesterday to a Republican-led House Energy and Commerce Committee panel, which is investigating a $535 million federal loan guarantee to the California solar manufacturer that filed for bankruptcy in September. The panel voted along party lines at a meeting today to subpoena internal White House communications on Solyndra.

While the administration has turned over more than 80,000 pages of communications, those documents are limited to messages between agencies involved in Solyndra’s financing and White House officials.

The newly released e-mails disclose that an analysis done by Lazard Ltd. in August included the debt-to-equity rescue plan that was reviewed by senior officials in the White House and at the Energy Department.

“Lazard advised that no further capital be allocated from the government to Solyndra,” George Bilicic, vice chairman of investment banking at Hamilton, Bermuda-based Lazard, said in an interview today. “We didn’t think it made economic sense.”

Bilicic said he delivered the advice to administration officials on an Aug. 28 conference call. U.S. officials rejected the restructuring plan, and Solyndra closed a day later.

$1 Million Advice

The department paid Lazard about $1 million for its advice on Solyndra, according to Damien LaVera, an Energy Department spokesman.

Private backers for the company, which made cylindrical thin-film panels, required new loan terms as a condition of additional investment, according to a Lazard briefing.

A Lazard presentation attached to an Aug. 16 e-mails said Solyndra “will need an infusion of cash immediately in order to remain viable.”

Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman, Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change, and other officials planned to participate in the Aug. 28 call to discuss the Lazard analysis, according to an e-mail chain dated Aug. 27 and included in the documents.

The administration provided about 1,200 pages of communications to the energy committee lawmakers yesterday “as part of our ongoing efforts to cooperate with their investigation,” LaVera said in an e-mailed statement. “The record shows that the decisions related to this loan were made on the merits after extensive review.”

‘Disturbingly Close’

Republican Representatives Fred Upton of Michigan, who heads the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Cliff Stearns of Florida, who leads its oversight panel, said in a statement last month that “the paper trail released by the White House portrays a disturbingly close relationship between President Obama’s West Wing inner circle, campaign donors and wealthy investors that spawned the Solyndra mess.”

They have questioned whether support for Solyndra was shaped by Obama’s political ties to George Kaiser, an oil billionaire whose family foundation invested in the company. The foundation and White House spokesmen have denied Kaiser, a fundraiser for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, lobbied for aid to Solyndra.

Subordinated Debt

A deal between the Energy Department and Solyndra in February put taxpayer debt behind $75 million in private investment in case of liquidation. Republicans have said that agreement violated the 2005 energy law authorizing the loan- guarantee program.

The February refinancing attracted the attention of Vice President Joe Biden’s staff, according to the e-mails.

Tobin Marcus, a Biden aide, sought information on Solyndra’s investors and how much the company’s solar panels cost in a Feb. 23 e-mail to an Energy official.

Matthew Winters, a senior adviser for loan programs at the department, said in an e-mail later that day that the vice president’s staff sought the information on prices “as they consider how to talk about Solyndra -- and its future business prospects.”

--With assistance from Brian Wingfield in Washington. Editors: Judy Pasternak, Larry Liebert

To contact the reporter on this story: Jim Snyder in Washington at jsnyder24@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at lliebert@bloomberg.net


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