Solyndra execs quiet; former employees speak out

Solyndra CEO Brian Harrison. left, and Chief Financial Officer Bill Stover, right, are sworn in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Sept. 23 2011, prior to testifying before the House Oversight and Investigations subcommittee. Top executives from a bankrupt California solar energy company are to appear before a congressional hearing investigating their government loan, but they're not expected to say much. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
September 23, 2011 8:19:36 PM PDT
Top executives from a bankrupt California solar energy company declined to testify before a congressional hearing investigating their half-billion dollar government loan.

Former employees, however, have plenty to say about the company that took out a $500 million federal loan and then shut its doors.

Taxpayers are on the hook for the loan that Solyndra was given by the government, and when the two top guys at the failed solar pane company refused to answer questions about where the money went, it went down hard on Capitol Hill and the Bay Area.

Solyndra's chief executive officer and chief financial officer swore to tell the truth and then said nothing on the advice of their attorneys.

At a job fair in Newark, former Solyndra employees had very similar reactions.

"If you have to plead the fifth, then it kind of means you have something to hide," said former Solyndra engineering tech Quentin Jackson.

Republican members of the House committee accused Solyndra's bosses of cheating taxpayers and of wasting money.

"It appears you know the Titanic was going down, and you figured out a way to get to the life boats first," charged Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Penn.

But that wasn't sentiment felt by the former Solyndra workers.

"That might've happened in other departments," said former Solyndra production supervisor Manuel Cabrel, "but I didn't see any of that."

A vice president at another solar panel company says Solyndra bet heavily that the price of silicon panels would remain high. Instead, the price fell.

"There was really no way, in my mind, that they could compete with that change in the market," said David Hochschild with former competitor Solaria.

But Republicans on the campaign trail aren't talking about what happened to the price of silicon or the panels. Instead, those Republicans are equating Solyndra with the stimulus and failure.

"What did the stimulus give us last time?" questioned GOP candidate Michele Bachmann during a recent trip to the Bay Area. "It gave us Solyndra. Wasn't that great? We got Solyndra."

"This is going to be a big talking point in the upcoming elections," said ABC7 political analyst Bruce Cain, Ph.D. "What the Republicans don't want is for this story to sort of disappear, so their challenge is to try and keep pulling the thread from the fabric and find one thing after another."

The challenge for the president and for green tech companies is to not let Solyndra's story stand as the poster child for alternative energy or government investments.

"If the response to Solyndra is just to pull the plug on support for all American solar companies, that would be the worst self-inflicted wound we could do," Cain said.

What happened to the $500 million is a question a lot of people are interested in. The FBI is investigating, as is the Department of Energy, and this week the Republican chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee announced his own investigation.

Solyndra is a target-rich environment for Republicans going into next year's election.


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