WASHINGTON (AP) — The Treasury Department's inspector general has opened an investigation of a $528 million government loan to Solyndra Inc., the now-bankrupt solar panel manufacturer once cited as a model of the Obama administration's clean energy program.
A spokesman said Thursday that the inspector general is reviewing the role and actions of the Federal Financing Bank, a government corporation supervised by the Treasury Department. The bank provided the low-interest loan to the Fremont, Calif.-based company.
The Treasury investigation is the latest government inquiry into the collapse of Solyndra, which filed for bankruptcy last month.
The FBI has executed search warrants at Solyndra's headquarters and talked to top executives. The Energy Department's inspector general and the House Energy and Commerce Committee also are investigating Solyndra and the DOE's Energy Loan Program, which has provided billions in loan guarantees to renewable energy companies.
The loan guarantees essentially make it easier for the companies to get financing, because the government guarantees repayment in the event of default. In Solyndra's case, the loan came from the government itself, but private banks often provide the financing.
The Obama administration is moving to finalize as many as 15 loan guarantees for renewable energy companies before a federal stimulus program ends on Sept. 30. Republicans question whether that could lead to more loans to companies that fail like Solyndra.
A spokesman for the Energy Department said the department won't take any shortcuts during the approval process.
"We will only close the deals that are ready to close on Sept. 30," said spokesman Damien LaVera.
The House energy committee released documents Wednesday that appeared to show senior staff at the White House Office of Management and Budget chafing about having to conduct "rushed approvals" of a loan guarantee for Solyndra.
Republican members of the committee said the emails raised questions about whether the loan was rushed to accommodate a Solyndra groundbreaking ceremony in September 2009 that featured Vice President Joe Biden and Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
"We would prefer to have sufficient time to do our due diligence reviews and have the approval set the date for the announcement rather than the other way around," said one of the emails from an unidentified OMB aide to Biden's office.
In another email exchange obtained by the committee, an Energy Department official asked a staff member at OMB if "there is anything we can speed along on the OMB side." Again, neither official was identified.
"I would prefer that this announcement be postponed," the OMB official replied. "This is the first loan guarantee and we should have full review with all hands on deck to make sure we get it right."
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday the emails don't suggest that the White House was pushing for the loan to be made.
"What the emails make clear is there was urgency to make a decision on a scheduling matter," Carney told reporters at the White House. "It is a big proposition to move the president or to put on an event and that sort of thing so people were simply looking for answers about whether or not people could move forward."
"It had nothing to — and there is no evidence to the contrary — nothing to do with anything besides the need to get an answer to make a scheduling decision," he said.
Solyndra once was the showcase for President Barack Obama's efforts to increase investment in renewable energy and to generate jobs. But the marketplace for its products changed dramatically over the past year. Chinese companies have flooded the market with inexpensive solar energy panels, and Europe's economy weakened demand from customers. The result has been an unprecedented drop in solar cell prices this year. Two other solar panel manufacturers also filed for bankruptcy in the past month.
Administration officials stressed that private investors thought so highly of Solyndra's prospects that they put more than $1 billion of their own money into the company.
But Republicans on the panel said there appeared to be a rush in approving financing for Solyndra, and they expressed concern that a similar rush may be taking place now with agreements that would have the federal government guaranteeing an additional $10 billion in loans if all the guarantees are approved before Sept. 30.
Associated Press Writer Kevin Freking contributed to this story.