Abound Solar Inc., a solar-panel maker that shut after borrowing $70 million from the U.S., couldn’t compete with Chinese companies selling items below production costs, the company’s ex-chief executive said.
As panel prices fell 50 percent in a year amid “aggressive price-cutting from Chinese competitors,” the U.S. Energy Department in August stopped lending to Abound, adding to the financial strain, Craig Witsoe, Abound’s chief executive officer when it closed, told a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee stimulus oversight panel hearing today.
Abound was awarded a $400 million loan guarantee and drew down about $70 million before the payments were suspended. The company attracted about $300 million from investors.
House Republicans have held several hearings this year to criticize the Energy Department’s $16 billion clean-energy loan guarantee program after companies such as Abound, solar-panel maker Solyndra LLC and Beacon Power Corp. (BCONQ:US), an energy-storage company, sought bankruptcy protection.
Republicans led by subcommittee chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio said Abound’s bankruptcy was proof that the department put tax dollars at risk.
Supporters said the program’s financial losses were less than anticipated and noted Democrats and Republicans supported the program before Solyndra’s bankruptcy in September, two years after it won a $535 million loan guarantee.
Representative Dennis Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat, said Republicans hadn’t offered evidence backing up allegations of a “broad scandal” or “cronyism” in the program.
“We’re attacking our own business people, and meanwhile, the Chinese are eating our lunch in this market,” Kucinich said.
Most of the lawmaker’s questions were directed at Jonathan Silver, former director of the Energy Department loan office, and not Witsoe or Tom Tiller, the company’s former chairman who was also called to testify.
Republicans led by panel Chairman Darrell Issa of California suggested Silver’s use of his personal e-mail account to discuss the loan-guarantee program may have violated federal records laws.
Silver, now a senior visiting fellow of the Third Way, a Washington-based group that describes itself as supporting “centrist” political policies, gave the committee about 2,000 e-mails from his personal account.
He said he used his personal e-mail because accessing the Energy Department e-mail account remotely was cumbersome and reading attached documents with a department-issued Blackberry device was difficult.
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