Image: Solar power site under construction
Ross D. Franklin  /  AP
Contruction of the Mesquite Solar 1 facility in Arlington, Ariz., continued Friday. The site's owners got a loan guarantee earlier this week.
updated 9/30/2011 7:29:35 PM ET 2011-09-30T23:29:35

The Energy Department on Friday approved four more solar energy loan guarantees worth nearly $5 billion, hours before a controversial loan program expired.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department moved to take away control of a failed solar panel maker from its management and transfer it to a court-appointed trustee.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the department completed deals on four projects, including two that were sold late this week by Arizona-based First Solar Inc., a major solar manufacturer that had been seeking three federal loan guarantees for projects in California. The sales were announced Friday along with the loan guarantees.

The loans were approved under the same program that paid for a $528 million loan to Solyndra LLC, a now-bankrupt solar panel maker that has become a symbol for critics of the Obama administration's green energy program.

Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., chairman of a House energy subcommittee that is investigating Solyndra, called the rush to approve loans unseemly.

"In a last-minute mad dash to beat the stimulus deadline, DOE rushed out an unprecedented tidal wave of taxpayer dollars — and the question still remains, 'Where are the jobs?' " Stearns said Friday. "American taxpayers are already on the hook for half a billion dollars for the sins of Solyndra. What surprises does DOE have in store from (Friday's) rush job?"

Two other solar loan guarantees worth about $1.1 billion were announced earlier this week, as the Obama administration pushed forward with the loan program despite pleas from GOP critics to halt it to avoid another Solyndra-like debacle.

Even as the loan program continued, the Justice Department took steps Friday to take away control of Solyndra from its management and transfer it to a court-appointed trustee.

In a filing with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware, the Justice Department said it was seeking the appointment of a trustee because top Solyndra executives refused to answer questions about its finances and operations. Solyndra CEO Brian Harrison and financial chief W.G. Stover refused to testify before Congress last week, citing their Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination.

The Justice Department did not allege any wrongdoing but said "the inability or refusal of the corporate officers to answer material questions . establishes cause for the appointment of a trustee."

Solyndra, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in early September, faces a criminal investigation by the FBI, as well as scrutiny from congressional investigators and inspectors general at two federal agencies, Energy and Treasury.

Experts said management often remains in control of a company during Chapter 11 reorganization, but in some cases a court orders the appointment of a trustee to take control. If the Justice Department motion is granted by the bankruptcy court, the trustee could make decisions about the company's operations, including whether to liquidate the firm, a Justice Department spokeswoman said.

Chu said the solar projects, which could cost taxpayers as much as $6 billion, should help the U.S. as it competes with China and other countries to develop renewable energy.

"To win the clean energy race we must invest in projects like this that fund jobs and increase the generation of clean, renewable power in the U.S.," Chu said in a statement. "Deployment of utility-scale solar power will help bring down the cost of solar and strengthen our position as a global clean energy leader."

Story: $1 billion in new solar loan guarantees OK'd by US

The deals announced Friday include a $1.5 billion loan guarantee to Florida-based NextEra Energy and other investors that bought a planned 550-megawatt solar farm on federal land in Southern California from First Solar, as well as $646 million to Illinois-based Exelon Corp. for a 230-megawatt solar plant near Los Angeles. Next Era Energy Resources and GE Energy Financial Services bought the Desert Sunlight project from First Solar, while Exelon bought the Antelope Valley project. First Solar will continue to build and operate both projects.

A third project, worth $1.2 billion, will help San Jose-based SunPower Corp. build a 250-megawatt solar plant in California, while $1.4 billion will go San Francisco-based Prologis Inc. to support installation of about 750 solar rooftop panels in 28 states.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Solyndra execs invoke 5th amendment

  1. Closed captioning of: Solyndra execs invoke 5th amendment

    >> critical spotlight shining on top executives from the failed solar energy company that got hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer funded loans. just moments ago, sow lin dhra solyndra ceo, sworn in.

    >> the important oversight role that it plays. as much as i wish to be able to answer the members' questions, i have been advised by my counsel it is the better course for me to assert my constitutional right to decline to answer questions under the fifth amendment.

    >> now we have our own modern day great train robbery. but it appears we have a great heist of over half a billion dollars and possibly even willing collaborators maybe even co-conspirators of the u.s. government who rushed out a $535 million loan to solyndra.

    >> kelly o'donnell is watching the hearing. kelly, listening to are the start of it, that's a sample. pretty fiery.

    >> reporter: one of those times when members ever congress are pointing fingers, raising this voices targeting those two executives. in part, with just a week of going bankrupt those two gentlemen, harrison and stover came to members of congress and talked about the health of their company. there are members who feel they were lied toance and there's a bigger issue about the fate of solar energy and the programs associated with them, and that's where it falls on political lines. fregs, you' for example one of the more senior members, democrat markey, an expert on this. they were making an example of this one's company to hurt a broader industry.

    >> the republican majority is recklessly exploiting this one case to advance a political agenda that is very clearly aimed at killing the solar wind and renewable industries.

    >> reporter: one of the things we'll see is a lot of discussion about the 1,000 employees who lost their job, the loan, half billion dollars not repaid. so when the witnesses decide not to answer questions by taking their fifth amendment rights, and there were some members of the committee who said they respect that, but were angry they couldn't get their questions answered. then it becomes the sort of political theater of asking those questions anyway, and subjecting those two officials to kind of the withering experience at being before congress. there's an ongoing investigation. much more of this. this was certainly one of the timing you could see congress venting anger feeling duped by this company and the taxpayers as well. richard?

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