Solyndra CEO questioned by FBI

The FBI spoke to the Solyndra CEO at his home yesterday after searching company offices, as a hearing on the loan guarantee for the beleaguered solar company is on tap.

The CEO of government-backed solar company Solyndra was visited by the FBI yesterday but agents did not search his house, according to a Solyndra representative.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that the home of Solyndra CEO Brian Harrison was searched after the FBI conducted a surprise raid at Solyndra's Fremont, Calif., solar panel plant. ABC News reported today the FBI also searched the homes of former CEO Chris Gronet and another executive, who is said to be co-founder Kelly Truman.

Solyndra made solar collectors by covering glass tubes with thin-film solar cells. Martin LaMonica/CNET

Solyndra spokesperson David Miller confirmed that agents came to Harrison's home but no search occurred. "FBI agents spoke to Brian Harrison at his house, they did not search it," Miller said.

An FBI representative today could not confirm or deny whether agents visited or searched anyplace other than Solyndra's headquarters, saying it is a sealed investigation. The FBI and the Department of Energy's Office of Inspector General spent the better part of yesterday in a joint search of Solyndra's offices where agents were seen taking documents.

It's still not clear what information the FBI and Energy Department are seeking, but it is expected to be related to the company's $535 million loan guarantee it secured from the Department of Energy in 2010 to build the Fremont factory. The Energy Department's Office of Inspector General conducts audits and investigations around the agency's programs.

The House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations next week is scheduled to hold a hearing seeking to find out more about the loan guarantee Solyndra received. Invited guests include the executive director of the loan guarantee program and Solyndra's CEO and CFO.

Solyndra abruptly shut down its operations last week, laying off more than 1,000 people and on Tuesday declared bankruptcy. Through bankruptcy, the company indicated that it may have buyers for its technology and its operations.

The loan guarantee for Solyndra has opened the Obama administration to criticism and raised questions over the effectiveness of backing specific companies, rather than setting broader policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions or encouraging green-technology businesses.

The case of Solyndra specifically, though, has drawn so much attention because of the size of its loan guarantee and because there had been signs for months that the company could not keep pace with rapidly falling solar costs from Asian manufacturers.

"Their cost structure was not competitive, that piece was a widely held assumption in the industry. The question was whether they could get it down fast enough to get to cash-flow positive," said Rob DeLine, the vice president of marketing at Miasole, another Silicon Valley solar startup.

In a letter yesterday to the chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, members of the Committee on Energy and Commerce wrote to request that Solyndra CEO Harrison testify at the hearing. "Less than two months ago, Mr. Harrison met with us and other Committee members to assure us that Solyndra was in no danger of failing," wrote Energy and Commerce Committee member Henry Waxman.

Solyndra, which had raised over $1 billion from private sources, had reportedly tried to gain more financing to continue operations but was unable to, leading to the shutdown.

One worker who was at Solyndra's office yesterday during the FBI raid told the San Jose Mercury News that the company's manufacturing process regularly yielded flawed components, which meant it had to throw away some of the equipment it was making.

 

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