When Solyndra, a Bay Area maker of industrial solar panels, announced plans to file for bankruptcy protection Wednesday, it wasn't just a blow for the company's 1,100 laid-off employees or the investors who have pumped millions into the venture. It called into question the Obama administration's entire clean-energy stimulus program.
Solyndra was the first company to be awarded a federal loan guarantee under the stimulus, worth $535 million. Taxpayers are likely to end up on the hook for much if not all of that amount, a highly embarrassing development for President Obama because he was among the company's biggest cheerleaders. He visited its Fremont plant in May 2010 even though PricewaterhouseCoopers had weeks earlier raised doubts about its plans for an initial public offering by questioning whether it could continue as a going concern.
That's especially troubling because Solyndra is backed by one of Obama's key fundraisers, George Kaiser of Tulsa. Congressional Republicans were raising alarms about Obama's connections to Solyndra well before Wednesday's announcement, with GOP members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee voting in July to subpoena documents from the Office of Management and Budget on the loan-guarantee decision.
Two important questions are raised by Solyndra's failure: Should the government be in the business of picking winners and losers by providing loan guarantees to risky energy ventures? And is Obama using stimulus funds to reward his political contributors?