Friday, September 25, 2020

Trump Admin Recovers $200 Million From Obama-Era Solar Boondoggle

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The Department of Energy on Thursday announced that it had recovered some $200 million in taxpayer dollars loaned to a failed solar energy startup by the Obama administration.

That money represents just part of the $737 million that the Department of Energy previously issued to Tonopah Solar Energy in 2011; $424 million was still outstanding at the time the settlement was reached. The deal still requires the approval of a U.S. bankruptcy court to proceed.

“President Trump will always stand with the hardworking taxpayers of America,” a senior administration official told the Washington Free Beacon, “and today’s massive $200 million settlement agreement by the Department of Energy secures taxpayer money that was squandered by the previous administration’s failed energy pet projects.”

The settlement is the conclusion of efforts by both the Obama and Trump administrations to shore up the flailing solar energy project, which promised to be revolutionary but ended in bankruptcy. Its eventual collapse recalls other ill-fated Obama-era investments in green energy, including the $500 million bilked out of federal coffers by failed solar panel startup Solyndra.

Based in Tonopah, Nev., Tonopah Solar Energy’s facility began operations in November 2015. The project received extensive support from the Obama administration, with then-secretary of energy Dr. Steven Chu offering Tonopah Solar government loan guarantees. Then-Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D.), in whose state the project was erected, also cleared the way for the creation of the company’s massive solar cell field on public land.

The loan was provided through DOE’s loan programs office, the same department which authorized Solyndra’s loan. The Tonopah Solar loan was in fact issued just weeks after Solyndra filed for bankruptcy.

In spite of this federal support, the project quickly ran into problems, including a nearly yearlong shutdown between October 2016 and July 2017, and a still-ongoing shutdown that began in April 2019. The result was that the state-of-the-art facility fell well below expected rates of power production. That, in turn, drove the company into bankruptcy proceedings, from which the federal government is only now disentangling itself.


DOE spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes told the Free Beacon that this withdrawal does not indicate the Trump administration is opposed to solar energy.

“This administration remains committed to an all-of-the-above energy strategy, as demonstrated by the over $1 billion the Department of Energy has awarded to renewable projects nationwide,” she said. “However, the interest of the American taxpayers will always be our top priority.”

Charles Fain Lehman is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He writes about policy, covering crime, law, drugs, immigration, and social issues. Reach him on twitter (@CharlesFLehman) or by email at [email protected]

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