Mitt Romney’s comment about President Obama’s acumen as a public equity investor: “You pick the losers,” has put Obama’s failed green energy emphasis under the microscope, bringing into question: have any been a success? Well, some haven’t failed, yet.
In our last report, Obama Never Admits Green Energy Failure, we profiled 15 companies that each received funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—the stimulus—and have gone bankrupt. In Wednesday’s debate, Romney listed two of our “bankrupt” list: Solyndra, the best known, and Ener1, now known thanks to Romney; and two that haven’t failed, yet: Fisker and Tesla—both electric vehicle manufacturers.
Fisker and Tesla received their funding from the Advanced Technologies Vehicle Manufacturing Program (ATVM), but they are not the only two green energy stimulus-funded projects that are troubled. Here, in this report, we will profile twenty different companies/projects that received funding from various loan guarantee programs (LGP), grants, and tax incentives. These are projects that are still functioning, but are facing difficulties.
Because of the debate exposure, we’ll look first at Fisker and Tesla. Then we’ll move to those that were funded through the Department of Energy (DOE) LGPs 1703 and 1705. Some of these companies/projects were profiled in our summer green-energy crony-corruption reports that focused on projects that shared these traits: junk bond-rated projects, Department of Interior (DOI) fast-tracked approvals, and politically connected. In these cases, we’ll link back to the original report that offers much more detail than we’ll include here. The last group, listed in alphabetical order, includes companies/projects that received stimulus funds through other programs—though no less important.
As with the previous report, we’ll list the company/project name and the funds received. For those with political connections, for brevity’s sake, we’ll add an * after the name. We’ll then include a description with some interesting details and links to additional information for those who want more or who want to check our research. Once again, I am collaborating with researcher Christine Lakatos.
Before we get to the profiles, here’s a quick overview of the primary funding mechanisms used for the Obama Administration’s pet green-energy public-equity investments.
The DOE’s Loan Guarentee Program
Since 2009, DOE has guaranteed $34.7 billion – 46% through the 1705 ($16 billion of which 90% are politically connected), 30% through the 1703 ($10.3 billion—AREVA and Georgia Power), and 14% through the ATVM ($8.4 billion and 3 of the five loans are tied directly to Obama).
1703 and ATVM were established prior to Obama—though the funds profiled here were all handed out by the Obama Administration. The 1705 program was created by the stimulus package, of which we know that 23 of the 26 projects were “junk rated,” and of those same 26 projects, 90% are politically connected. In 2010, the Government Accountability Office, at the request of Congress, reviewed the execution of the LGP. Their findings note that “LGP scope has expanded both in the types of projects it can support and in the amount of loan guarantee authority available. DOE currently has loan guarantee authority estimated at about $77 billion and is seeking additional authority.”
Three of the companies profiled in our report on the bankrupt projects were funded through the 1705 program: Solyndra, Beacon Power, and Abound Solar. Here, we will cover eight 1705 projects that are on life support or are having problems—putting close to $10 billion of taxpayer money at risk—approximately 1/3 of the $34.7 billion doled out through DOE LGP just to help out Obama and his Democrat cronies (100% of these projects have meaningful political connections).
Fisker and Tesla received ATVM funding.
For the next four years, let’s build the economy and support responsible energy; the stuff we know works: oil, gas, coal, and uranium/nuclear. When the economy is strong again, then we can “invest” in some R & D for the future.
Let’s pick projects that will benefit all Americans, winners, not losers.
Fisker Automotive* — $528.7
In September 2009, Fisker received the ATVM loan to build the $87,900 flashy plug-in Karma sports car. Reports at the time stated: “Fisker plans to use $169.3 million of its loan to work with U.S. suppliers to produce the more expensive Fisker Karma, which will be developed at its Michigan and California offices, but then will be assembled “overseas.” The other $359.36 million will go toward producing “Fisker’s Project Nina, which will be entirely manufactured in the United States.” Fisker expected to “Become profitable by 2011.” ABC reported: “Vice President Joseph Biden heralded the Energy Department’s $529 million loan to the start-up electric car company called Fisker as a bright, new path to thousands of American manufacturing jobs.” Those jobs didn’t materialize—at least not in America. The Karma was produced in Finland. Two years after the loan was awarded, the Washington Post stated that Fisker “has missed early manufacturing goals and has gradually pushed back plans for U.S. production and the creation of thousands of jobs” and announced that the Karma “failed to meet a promised energy-efficiency standard.” Now, in 2012, Fisker Automotive is laying off staff in order to qualify for more government loans. So, President Obama’s “green” energy stimulus was supposed to create jobs; now it’s destroying jobs so that companies can get more stimulus? Of course, news of defective battery packs and subsequent fires haven’t help sell the Karma. Fisker has faced “multiple 2012 sales prediction downgrades for its first car release, delivery and cash flow troubles.” Though the company has balked at Solyndra comparisons, Fisker may well be on “death’s door.”
Tesla Motors* — $465 million
Like the Fisker Karma, the Tesla roadster is popular with the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Google co-founder Sergey Brin, and other “Silicon Valley luminaries on the waiting list for the company’s super-cool and expensive electric sports cars”—as they are the only people who can afford the $100,000+ sports car. Despite the fact that Tesla has been successful in raising hundreds of millions in private equity, they still needed the ATVM loan to help it get out of “the proverbial garage.” It looks like the “luminaries” will need to keep waiting. Tesla has been plagued with design problems: “If the battery is ever totally discharged, the owner is left with what Tesla describes as a ‘brick’: a completely immobile vehicle that cannot be started or even pushed down the street. The only known remedy is for the owner to pay Tesla approximately $40,000 to replace the entire battery.” Other complaints about Tesla include “Over Promise, Under Deliver.” Last month Tesla issued more shares and announced that “Q3 revenues would not meet analyst estimates.” Despite its problems, Tesla, as Forbes green tech writer Todd Woody said, is not Solyndra—though one would be engaging hyperbole to call it a success.
1703 Loan Guarantee Program
AREVA acquired Ausra Inc.* –– $2 billion
In March 2010, this Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) investment that “develops and deploys utility-scale solar technologies,” was acquired by AREVA Inc., the French state-owned nuclear giant. Two months later, in May of 2010, the DOE offered AREVA Enrichment Services, LLC a conditional commitment for a $2 billion loan guarantee to support the Eagle Rock Enrichment Facility in Idaho Falls, Idaho. As rumors of AREVA “suspending its Idaho uranium enrichment plant” circulated, AREVA CEO Luc Oursel did confirm: “the company has been hit by financial problems that will affect the Eagle Rock Enrichment Facility and others worldwide.” Further, according to John Stossel’s Green Energy Myth July 2012 tally, “Shareholders of AREVA lost over 60% of their money last year . Why did we enrich the French? Who knows, but it’s awfully fishy when we find our usual green cronyism suspects hovering around “government green” like vultures. Kleiner Perkins, where John Doerr and Al Gore are both partners and 2008 Obama supporters. Meanwhile billionaire John Doerr –– considered “a very big-ticket Obama donor” by New York Magazine –– influenced the 2009-stimulus, sits on the president’s job council, and in February 2011 hosted a star-studded billionaire Silicon Valley dinner for the president. He just so happened to rake in billions of stimulus money for his KPCB clean-energy portfolio, including Fisker Automotive listed above.
1705 Loan Guarantee Program
BrightSource Energy* — $1.6 billion
Using a proprietary power-tower solar thermal system, BrightSource Energy has a three-unit power system project known as “Ivanpah,” located near the California/Nevada border, south of Las Vegas. The BrightSource loan was considered a bailout, and is clearly a misuse of the DOE Loan Guarantee Program, and a direct violation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. According to Peter Schweizer’s Throw Them All Out book, “BrightSource badly needed the infusion of taxpayer cash. It had been losing lots of money. It had a debt obligation of $1.8 billion and, in 2010, lost $71.6 million on revenue of just $13.5 million.” Despite the fast-tracked DOI approval, this project on federal land, has been plagued with problems. In April 2011, construction was halted because it put endangered desert tortoises at risk of being murdered. So far BrightSource has spent approximately $22 million to relocate and care for some 202 desert tortoises — a cost of $108,910 per tortoise,” and will be spending big taxpayer bucks in the future to help preserve the turtles. Still, in August of this year “BrightSource Energy (BSE) invited media on a tour of its now half-complete Ivanpah solar power plant,” proclaiming that the solar power plant is on track. However, what the folks at BrightSource aren’t bragging about is the fact that they “lost $111 million in 2011 and [that they] are heavily dependent on government subsidies and government mandates, and that’s not a good place to be in this economic climate,” and this past spring, abandoned their attempt at an IPO.
FirstSolar* — $3 billion, plus suspicious Export-Import bank funding
First Solar manufacturers “thin film” solar modules and is now moving into project development. Considered by the House Oversight Committee as a “scheme,” since the finalization of its $3 billion in taxpayer-funded loans, the company has had a series of issues ranging from being the “biggest S&P loser in 2011,” to the CEO being fired, and tons in between. In April 2012, FirstSolar laid off 2000 workers and closed factories. In May, a massive round of furloughs was announced. In a May 16, 2012 hearing, CEO Michael Ahern admitted: “in sheer numbers, most of our full-time employees are outside the US.” According to Forbes this past July, “Shares of First Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ:FSLR), are selling at their lowest level in five years. The company, which is the leading solar company in the United States, lost $39.5 million last year. In the first quarter of this year, First Solar reported a loss of $449 million after non-recurring expenses of $405 million.” Meanwhile, Reuters reported on September 24, 2012, “First Solar, for example, postponed indefinitely its plans for a second U.S. factory in Arizona because of the weak market conditions.” And, in May, the Heritage Foundation predicted: “It’s just a matter of time before [First Solar] joins the bankruptcy ranks of Solyndra and Beacon Power.”
Nevada Geothermal* — $78.8 million, plus $69 million in federal stimulus-funded grants
This geothermal company was heartily endorsed by Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who said: “This project is exactly the type of initiative we need to ensure Nevada creates good-paying jobs.” Last October, an auditor for Nevada Geothermal Power said the company would probably not survive much longer. At the time, the company laid off 100 workers—which represents a large percentage of its workforce. Recently, the Washington Times revealed that power at Nevada Geothermal (NGP) is dimming and may be the next green-energy bankruptcy. Late last month, it was announced that NGP may transfer ownership to a lender after projecting the facility will produce less power than expected.
NextEra Energy Genesis Solar Project* — $681.6 million
This solar energy project may be the victim of its favored treatment. According to the Los Angeles Times, “The $1-billion Genesis Solar Energy Project has been expedited by state and federal regulatory agencies that are eager to demonstrate that the nation can build solar plants quickly to ease dependence on fossil fuels and curb global warming. Instead, the project is providing a cautionary example of how the rush to harness solar power in the desert can go wrong—possibly costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and dealing an embarrassing blow to the Obama administration’s solar initiative.” The House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform’s March 20, 2012 report says: “To expedite site approval, NextEra opted for a less thorough process.” As a result, the site “encroached on the habitat of the endangered kit foxes.” NextEra had to move the foxes prior to grading the site. “Ultimately, seven foxes died from NextEra’s removal process.” Additionally, there have been concerns of desert tortoises and a “prehistoric human settlement,” of which the latter has “sparked a potential standoff between Native American tribal groups on one side and the Bureau of Land Management and the solar developer on the other.”
SunPower Corp.* (project bought by NRG Energy*) –– $1.2 billion DOE loan guarantee
Despite SunPower’s well-known financial issues, and the fact that it was under a shareholder suit alleging securities fraud and misrepresentations, just days (September 2011) before the 1705 Loan Guarantee Program’s deadline, along with four other solar companies, its $1.2 billion loan guarantee from the DOE was approved. This $1.2 billion of taxpayer dollars went to build a 250-megawatt solar plant (the California Valley Solar Ranch in San Luis Obispo County), “a project that will help create 15 permanent jobs, which adds up to the equivalent of $80 million in taxpayer money for each job.” While the conditional loan was announced in April 2011, “shortly thereafter, French energy giant Total bought a majority ownership in SunPower and extended a $1 billion credit line to the company.” Now, SunPower never directly got the cash because they sold the California Valley Solar Ranch that received the federal loan to NRG, an energy company based in New Jersey. But SunPower is still developing the project and stands to profit if it succeeds. The House Oversight March 20th report, noted this project as “non-investment” grade –– part of the DOE’s disastrous loan guarantee program, as 23 of the 26 were junk rated, putting $16 billion of taxpayer money at risk. SunPower: Twice As Bad As Solyndra and twice full of cronyism and corruption –– both SunPower and NRG Energy have meaningful political connections to President Obama and other high-ranking Democrats.
Other Stimulus funded projects
A123 Systems* — $390 million
On September 13, 2010, President Obama called lithium-ion electric-car battery maker A123 Systems CEO and said, “This is about the birth of an entire new industry in America—an industry that’s going to be central to the next generation of cars.” According to Radio Michigan, part of the NPR Network, during the call, which took place at the plant’s opening, Obama touted: this “shows it is possible to build an advanced battery industry in the U.S. basically from scratch.” A123’s primary customer was Fisker Automotive. It is the A123 batteries that caused the “bricking” addressed in the Fisker summary. In a little more than two years, A123 has laid off 125 employees, seen the stock fall to less than $1, faced lawsuits, and given the Chinese control of the company.
AltaRock* — $6 million, $25 million, plus $1.45 million
AltaRock received $25 million for an Engineered Geothermal System (EGS) demonstration project in Oregon and an additional $1.45 million to develop more efficient EGS exploration drilling methods. AltaRock’s similar venture in California was shut down due to drilling problems after receiving $6 million from the DOE. The Oregon Newberry Project hopes for better results with the testing phase expected to be complete by 2014.
Bloom Energy* — $5 million
Expected to work like magic by creating cheap, clean energy from a refrigerator-size box, known as the Bloom Box, Bloom Energy has fallen from its glory day, February 21, 2010, when it debuted with a segment on 60 Minutes. The Bloom Boxes were to be made in Delaware. A few months ago, a lawsuit was filed against Bloom “on the grounds that it represents a ‘crony’ deal that will unfairly charge utility ratepayers millions of dollars and bar competitors from the state.” However, a Breitbart report states: “‘cronyism’ may be the least of the company’s problems: the ‘green’ energy its generators produce may, in fact, be less efficient, more expensive, and dirtier than that produced by conventional alternatives.”
CH2M Hill* — $2 billion
Despite their history of problems, CH2M Hill, a consulting, engineering, and construction firm received stimulus funds for the clean-up of nuclear waste from cold war-era sites. The Washington Post reported that CH2M Hill was slated for the stimulus funds before President Obama was even inaugurated. Senator Patty Hill (D-WA) lobbied for the program and CH2M gave her $16,000 in political contributions. The Blaze reports that CH2M also has connections with former green jobs czar Van Jones. Nonetheless, once the stimulus funds ran out, it was predicted, in January 2011, that 1600 people would lose their jobs. In July, it was announced that 1200 would be laid off. Accuracy in Media has done a thorough investigative report on the Ch2M case.
Chevy Volt* — $151 million, $105 million, plus stimulus funds
A House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, in a January 2012 report, accuses President Obama of using an “unusual blurring of public and private sector boundaries” in the case of the Chevy Volt. The report cites: the Administration has offered substantial taxpayer-funded subsidies to encourage production of the Volt, such as $151.4 million in stimulus funds for a Michigan-based company that produces lithium-ion polymer battery cells for the Volt as well as $105 million directly to GM.” Yet, the Volt has not been a success. GM has halted the Volt’s production and laid-off 1300 workers. In August, Forbes predicted that “GM is headed for bankruptcy—again”—though not until after the election. Perhaps, as the Washington Examiner suggested, Biden’s bumper sticker slogan “BIN Laden is dead and General Motors is alive” would be more accurate as: “Al-Qaida’s alive and GM is lurching”
ECOtality* Inc. — $126.2 million
The Daily Caller calls ECOtality: “yet another troubled green-tech company that has received taxpayer funds and public support from the White House.” Touted in President Obama’s 2010 State of the Union address, ECOtality was supposed to install 1400 electric car chargers in five states and “an estimated 750 jobs are likely to be created over the life and scope of the project.” Less than 7000 have been installed and according to Recovery.gov, 144 jobs have been created. According to a statement from its SEC filing, “We may not achieve or sustain profitability on a quarterly or annual basis in the future.” According to the Heritage Foundation, the company is also under investigation for insider trading.
Johnson Controls — $299 million
The money was supposed to go to making electric batteries and for opening up two factories in the US. Touted as a “success” in an Obama campaign ad, Johnson Controls actually opened only one US factory—and it operates at half capacity. The second factory was built in Hungary. The US plant featured in the ad has been fined for “$188,600 for exposing employees to higher than permissible levels of lead.” The Heritage Foundation reports that Johnson Controls will be laying off workers.
Montana Alberta Tie Line* — $161 million
A transmission line project that was the first authorized under the stimulus program, the Montana Alberta Tie Line was seen as a good conduit for stimulus money. The Washington Post reports: “The 214-mile line, known as the Montana Alberta Tie Line, which is supposed to run from Great Falls, Mont., to Lethbridge in Alberta and is designed to facilitate wind generation in northern Montana” is two years behind schedule and $70 million over budget. Inspector General Gregory H. Friedman said the project has come to “a standstill, with no progress being made.”
National Renewable Energy Lab* — $200 million
The Daily Caller reports: “The Obama administration supported the NREL in 2009 with roughly $200 million in stimulus grants. Energy Secretary Stephen Chu visited Golden in May 2009 to promote the NREL as a beneficiary of those funds.” Yet, as the Denver Post reports: “The Golden lab, which saw tremendous investment as part of President Barack Obama’s stimulus efforts, said it will use voluntary buyouts to cut 100 to 150 jobs.” The Denver Post cites the Governor’s Energy Office, director TJ Deora as saying: “We love having the jobs here in Colorado, but this was anticipated, now that the stimulus money is winding down.”
Schneider Electric — $86 million
The Iowa Republican reports: “Schneider, which bought Square D Company in 1991, has received over $86 million in federal stimulus money. Some of the money went to make energy upgrades to buildings and factories as part of the administration’s Better Buildings Better Plants Challenge. According to a White House press release, Schneider received the funds because it had pledged to reduce energy consumption in 9 million square feet of building space, covering 40 different plants, by 25 percent.” In May, in the midst of an Obama Iowa campaign stop, Schneider announced that it was cutting 80 jobs—roughly 20% of its Cedar Rapids workforce. Schneider is moving its production line of low voltage circuit breakers to Mexico. The Iowa Republican closes its report with this: “It is also frustrating to see large companies like Schneider receive millions in stimulus dollars and still relocate jobs to Mexico. Maybe instead of finding ways to keep giving incentives to the wind industry in Newton, the President should explain why companies that have received millions from his administration feel the need to create jobs in Mexico and not Cedar Rapids.”
Serious Material* — $548,100
While you may have never heard of Serious Material, they have one of the most interesting stories. This California-based company has a window manufacturing plant in Chicago, about which President Obama said: “These workers will now have a new mission: producing some of the most energy-efficient windows in the world.” And Vice President Biden said: “This is a story of how a new economy predicated on innovation and efficiency is not only helping us today but inspiring a better tomorrow.” John Stossel reported that Serious Material’s CEO claimed that his factory opening wouldn’t have been possible without the Obama administration. Stossel says, “He may have known something we didn’t.” In January 2010, “Obama announced a new set of tax credits for so-called green companies. One window company was on the list: Serious Materials. This must be one very special company.” How special? Cathy Zoi, who oversees $16.8 in stimulus funds, is married to Robin Roy—vice president of policy at Serious Windows. Breitbart.com calls them “a metaphor for Obama’s political career, featuring strong-arm union tactics, corrupt Chicago politicians, crony capitalism, and media propaganda.” May the metaphor continue. Earlier this year, Serious admitted defeat. They closed the Chicago plant. About 46 workers lost their jobs.
Solar World Industries America — $4.6 million
A subsidiary of Germany’s Solar World, the US company received funds through the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy—about which Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced “more than $145 million for projects to help shape the next generation of solar-energy technologies and ensure that the United States remains a leader in the global market.” Apparently that wasn’t enough for Solar World. After Solar World complained that Chinese solar-panel manufacturers benefitted from unfair subsidies by Beijing, the US Commerce Department announced tariffs on Chinese-made solar panels. Shortly thereafter, Fox News reported: “Solar World and others had seen their market share plummet as sales in inexpensive Chinese panels have skyrocketed.” Solar World stock price has dropped 75% and Chief Executive Frank Asbeck has given up his pay “until the company is profitable again.”
The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc. and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). Together they work to educate the public and influence policy makers regarding energy, its role in freedom, and the American way of life. Combining energy, news, politics, and, the environment through public events, speaking engagements, and media, the organizations’ combined efforts serve as America’s voice for energy.