Execs Get Bonuses at Money-Losing Green Firms

NLPC Associate Fellow Paul Chesser was a guest Monday on the Willis Report on Fox Business Network. Here’s a transcript:

Gerri Willis: Burning through taxpayer money, but churning out big bonuses for green energy executives. One of the outrageous parts of the Obama Administration’s failed green energy agenda. It started, as you know, with Solyndra, but it is spreading fast. Paul Chesser is an associate fellow at the National Legal and Policy Center. Welcome back to the show, great to see you.

Paul Chesser: Good to see you.

Gerri Willis: You know, we’re going to focus on First Solar today. And this shocks even me and I have heard every overspending story in the world, probably. But this company called First Solar, they get three billion in loan guaranties. They give their president thirty two million over two years in bonuses. What do you make of that?

Paul Chesser: Well, he wasn’t a very good steward of that money. When he was this is Rob Gillette, who was the interim, he was CEO for two years up until toward the end of last year. He replaced the founder Michael Ahearn. And now, Michael Ahearn is back in charge and Rob Gillette, as he was leaving First Solar, the stock price dropped from like a hundred and forty three dollars to a hundred eighteen dollars. Now, it is down below twenty dollars. I checked a little while ago. It is about nineteen dollars. And this is three billion dollars that were supposed to go towards helping create thirteen hundred construction jobs and forty five permanent jobs for three different solar facilities at First Solar.

Gerri Willis: But what happened, Paul? What happened instead?

Paul Chesser: Well, you know, we, as I reported it at National Legal and Policy Center, Rob Gillette got thirty two million dollars over those two years as the stock was tanking and as they were finding problems with their solar panels. And eight top executives received sixteen million last year. And as was reported last week two thousand people were cut loose across the U.S. and a couple other countries.

Gerri Willis: Well, let’s take a look at some of these numbers for just a second.

Paul Chesser: Sure.

Gerri Willis: So fiscal year twenty eleven, you have eight executives. They get sixteen million in bonuses, right? This company has promised that they would have thirteen hundred construction jobs, forty five permanent jobs. But in reality, the company all over the globe is cutting two thousand jobs. So here we are. We’ve given these executives literally millions of dollars in bonuses and compensation. It really looks, Paul, you tell me, because you’re the expert on this, I am not. It looks like our taxpayer dollars flowed right through from us to these executives’ bank accounts.

Paul Chesser: Well, they certainly are profiting and so are the investors, private investors in first solar. And as I mentioned in my piece last week, there are other companies like this, like the battery company, A123.

Gerri Willis: We’ve reported on them, too. Yes.

Paul Chesser: Right. And you know, one of the facilities in California, Antelope Valley, solar facility, they cut loose at the end of last year 100 employees, and yet, the Department of Energy just released the fund for them, six hundred forty six million in funds to go to that facility. So, it’s really hard to understand what the Department of Energy is thinking. Like I mentioned last week, A123 was just granted a two-year extension to spend their money. Their executives got thirty six percent bonuses last year, yet, they cut off Fisker. So, there’s really no rhyme or reason to what the Department of Energy is doing with these green energy companies.

Gerri Willis: Here’s what I really don’t get about all this. So, the president, on the one hand, decries the big money to say Wall Street CEOs get. And he really seems to believe because he says this all the time that there is, you know, there’s an amount of money you should earn, and anything over that is too much. Anything over that is just greedy. But look at these green energy executives getting millions in bonuses. Nobody is calling them out. Why?

Paul Chesser: You got me. You’re calling them out, and I really appreciate that. But there’s, you know, a mutual back scratching issue here. President Obama, Vice President Biden, they’ve shown up at a lot of these facilities. They showed up at Solyndra. They showed up at Ener1 in Indiana. They go for these big ribbon cuttings and go for the media coverage. And it’s just a mutual back scratching agreement, and the executives are, you know, they’re doing well at going to the White House, lobbying, spending millions of dollars.

Gerri Willis: Quickly, Paul, we don’t have a lot more time, but I do want to ask you this question. Is it the appropriate role for the Department of Energy or any part of the government, frankly, to be a venture capitalist? To decide what companies to invest in and what companies not to invest in?

Paul Chesser: Well, of course not, Gerri. You know, I tell people, even if these companies were winners, were homeruns, they were doing well, why should a government bureaucrat’s budget be benefiting from it? It should be private investors who are putting their own capital at stake.

They should be the ones reaping the benefit, not a government agency. Taxpayers are not going to experience the benefit. We’re not going to get any tax breaks. We’re not benefiting.

Gerri Willis: But there are no benefits. These companies are losers.

Paul Chesser: Yes. We’re paying more for electricity for the solar panels and wind farms. We’re paying more for the cars.

Gerri Willis: And you do a terrific job covering this stuff. We really appreciate it. Really detailed stuff. Thank you, Paul. Appreciate it.

Paul Chesser: Enjoyed it as always, thanks.

Gerri Willis: Thank you.