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This Week in Clean Economy: GOP Seizes on Solyndra as an Election Issue

Group launches the first Solyndra-related ad blitz, just as reports reveal most Americans support solar and V.C.s are boosting cleantech investment.

Nov 4, 2011
Pres. Obama speaks at an event at the Solyndra facility in May 2010.

The Solyndra debacle is proving an irresistible target for Republicans and their allies—especially as the election cycle gets underway.

The conservative Americans for Prosperity, a group established and largely financed by oil industry interests, kicked off the first Solyndra-related national ad blitz this week. The campaign accuses Pres. Obama of cronyism for his involvement in granting the now-bankrupt California solar firm a $535 million federal loan guarantee.

The group will spend $2.4 million on TV spots over two weeks in key swing states like Florida, Michigan, New Mexico and Virginia. The first advert charges Obama with "risking billions of taxpayer dollars to help his political donors" and "his friends at Solyndra."

Still hungry for hard proof of such Obama wrongdoing, the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted along partisan lines on Thursday to subpoena internal White House communications about Solyndra. 

The White House has already released 85,000 pages of documents. Committee chairman Joe Barton (R-Tex.) told the New York Times  the extra materials are needed to confirm his party's hunch that White House officials had "extensive contact" with a campaign donor who was also a Solyndra investor.

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), the ranking Democrat on the panel, called the vote a "political sideshow" and "an act of irresponsible partisanship," according to media reports.

Bankrupt Beacon Power Blames Solyndra Attacks

The "political firestorm" surrounding Solyndra may have claimed its first cleantech casualty this week: Massachusetts energy storage firm Beacon Power.

Beacon is the second DOE-backed green firm to go belly-up, and it's blaming the Solyndra fiasco for its crash. "Frankly, your honor, it's been a storm that the company has not been able to withstand without the protection of this court," the company's lawyer told a judge during a Wednesday bankruptcy hearing.

Last year the firm received a $43 million loan guarantee to help build a 20-megawatt storage plant in New York. The facility was designed to smooth intermittent flows of wind and solar power on the grid.

Beacon was seeking $10 million in private financing to stay afloat. But its ability to tap the credit market "evaporated" once Solyndra came under scrutiny, the lawyer said. That, plus restrictive financing terms mandated by the DOE and its recent delisting from the Nasdaq stock market, left it struggling, according to its bankruptcy filings.

Obama's fiercest critics were quick to link Beacon with Solyndra and target DOE. "This latest failure is a sharp reminder that DOE has fallen well short of delivering the stimulus jobs," said Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), who heads the House's Solyndra probe.

Beacon's chief executive Bill Capp has said his firm is no Solyndra. (For one, its plant is still operating and earning revenues, unlike Solyndra's shuttered factory, he said.)

Americans from Both Parties Support a Clean Economy; V.C.'s Ante Up

Trying to drown out critics of the Obama administration's green subsidy programs, several groups released polls this week showing strong public support for clean energy.

According to a Tuesday report from the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group, and Kelton Research, a polling firm, nine in 10 Americans surveyed said it is important for the United States to develop and use solar energy. (Some 80 percent of Republicans and 94 percent of Democrats said they supported the renewable energy source, it found.)

According to a separate poll from the nonpartisan Civil Society Institute, three in four Americans said they want the U.S. to make the investments needed to be a global green energy leader.

The federal government's clean energy financing is caught in the Solyndra fallout and the long-running budget feud. But new figures released on Tuesday from Ernst & Young  reveal that venture capitalists are once again anteing up.

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