Caveat: I'm not a financial reporter. But I was looking at the SEC filings this morning for Solyndra Inc. - that's the giant solar panel company, based in Fremont, raided Thursday by federal agents a few days after the firm filed for bankruptcy. The SEC documents I saw did NOT show that management, for example, was taking down inordinate amounts of compensation. Still, it would behoove all of our local TV stations to hie themselves to Fremont and do stories about Solyndra because it's got legs. Legs that look a lot like Jackie Johnson's on KCAL. So get with it, TV people.
The fall-out from the collapse of one of California's premiere green energy firms is a very big deal; Patt Morrison on her KPCC show Thursday did yeoman's work trying to put the Solyndra debacle in perspective, with an interview with Ronnie Green, reporter for the Center for Public Integrity.
Solyndra got a $535 million loan from the feds green energy program (this was a subset of the jobs program.) In his jobs speech only last night, the President continued to talk up the importance of re-establishing the U.S. as the birthplace, the incubator, for business innovation and green energy. We've heard this mantra for years in California, first from Gov. Schwarzenegger and more recently from Gov. Brown.
Now Solyndra, a key player in all this, goes belly-up, a thousand workers laid-off, all amid questions about what the company did with taxpayers' $535 million loan, whether the company obtained the loan on sweetheart terms and what it all mean for green energy development in California, in the U.S.? Republican critics are having a hey-day, and the breaking news is giving them comfort. It was reported this morning that government auditors have been hovering over Solyndra's board meetings for months...and that big investors in the firm were also big investors in Obama's presidential campaign.
California for years has tried to set the pace on green energy - starting with legislation mandating that the state's privately-owned utilities generate significant amounts of their electricity from green sources. Public utilities, run by politicians, looking for votes, and (sometimes) legacies, volunteered to step up.
Mayor Villaraigosa was one of these. Thus, the city of LA's agonizing debate in 2010 over new green energy charges - the same debate that triggered threats of LA City bankruptcy when DWP said it could not afford (if the city council wouldn't bow to its rate hike demands) to pay its annual tribute to the city's general fund budget.
During that controversy, I did a story - with former DWP president Nick Patsaouras providing support - about how the city of LA tied one hand behind its back (as it tried to meet ambitious clean energy goals for DWP) by deciding NOT to count the city's Hoover Dam-generated power (from turbines driven by falling water) as "clean energy." With that decision, the city put itself in a situation where it had to buy more clean energy - generally at a higher cost than Hoover Dam energy - to boost its green portfolio. That story had to come out. Now the story has to come out about Solyndra. Green energy can't be a sacred cow. Nor should it be a whipping boy.