Colorado Local Govts Struggle in Wake of DOE’s Abound Solar Bankruptcy

Abound logoSo here’s the legacy left in Weld County, Colorado by bankrupt Abound Solar, the crony capitalist-influenced Department of Energy, and Democrat donor/investor/billionaire-ette Pat Stryker: A financially-screwed county government, hundreds who have lost their jobs, and a big, expensive toxic mess to clean up.

But it’s no skin off the jet-setting heiress’s nose as she continues to pour millions into hard-left causes, while the locals affected by the closure struggle.

Commissioners in the sprawling region on the Centennial State’s northern border with Wyoming threw in the towel this week on the hope they could recover much more than a pittance on the $1.8 million they are owed from the bankrupt stimulus beneficiary. The county – which scrambled for over a year to close its Abound budget hole – on Wednesday night agreed to accept a $100,000 settlement. The bumbling bureaucrats at DOE, who found Abound worthy of a $400 million loan guaranteed by the federal government, hold a large portion of the responsibility for this fiasco. Seventy million dollars was delivered to Abound before it went belly-up last year, and now U.S. taxpayers have to eat up to $60 million of that.

“This is a great example of what happens when the federal government doesn’t do its due diligence,” said Weld Co. Commissioner Sean Conway to the Northern Colorado Business Report. “There are tens of millions of dollars that have been lost in this deal. We are impacted by it, our school districts, our library districts, the county has been impacted by this.”

Another Colorado local government, Larimer County, was also affected, as Abound owed them $229,000 in taxes for 2011 and 2012. As of a year ago Abound also owed the Cities of Loveland and Fort Collins nearly $18,000 for overdue utility bills, according to the Northern Colorado Business Report.

As the Greeley Tribune reported a year ago, Abound’s troubles especially put a pinch on Weld County’s coffers. Various school, public safety and other government services departments had to make budget cuts. The school district where Abound’s taxes went to, in St. Vrain Valley, absorbed more than a half-million dollars in reduced revenues because of the company’s failure.

It didn’t have to be that way, had DOE’s loan application reviewers actually paid attention. As NLPC reported about a year ago, a March 2012 House Congressional Oversight Committee report – titled “The Department of Energy’s Disastrous Management of Loan Guarantee Programs” – explained how credit evaluator Fitch Ratings “described Abound as lagging in technology relative to its competitors, failing to achieve stated efficiency targets, and expecting that Abound Solar will suffer from increasing commoditization and pricing pressures.” Fitch determined there was only a 45-percent likelihood that Abound would repay its loan to taxpayers. The details were spelled out in a story by Colorado Watchdog.

Then Daily Caller reported in October that the company sold defective or underperforming products, and cited inside sources at the company who claimed officials knew their panels were faulty before they received taxpayer dollars. Abound’s financing was closed on in December 2010, two months after Abound knew its panels were catching fire. The news site reported that the company’s lead quality engineer “blew the whistle” in an October 2010 manager’s meeting but was “basically told to shut up and sit down.”

“Our solar modules worked as long as you didn’t put them in the sun,” an internal source told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

The Complete Colorado and Colorado Watchdog first reported news of trouble at the solar manufacturer. Complete Colorado discovered in March 2012 that Abound had a previously unannounced work shutdown over the 2011 holidays in which employees were told they would have to use their vacation pay benefits to receive compensation between Dec. 23 and January 2. The memo that went to all Abound employees admonished, “Don’t let the rumor mill create false purposes for this shutdown.”

Then in a May 2012 report Colorado Watchdog discovered that Stryker, whose Bohemian Companies was a big investor in Abound who was also a 2008 bundler for President Obama, was itself a victim of Abound’s poor-quality products. A November 2010 email obtained by reporter Todd Shepherd revealed that an Abound salesperson asked a company engineer to go to Stryker’s Bohemian headquarters to “take down the broken modules (I think 14 total) as well as 4 that we shipped them originally….” The email indicated that the four panels would undergo “failure analysis.”

Stryker, whose brother Jon was also a top-five donor to the Obama campaign, herself seemed to take an intense interest in Abound’s application for a stimulus loan guarantee. An amazing timeline compiled by Colorado Peak Politics showed that she visited the White House in October 2009, July 2010, and December 2010 – all at crucial times in the progress of Abound’s pursuit of financing. Contemporaneous to those visits were a letter sent in December 2009 signed by all of Colorado’s Democratic Congressmen (many whom Stryker helped get elected) urging the approval of Abound’s loan. In April 2010 a DOE credit adviser expressed “major issues with the transaction,” but two months later noted “the transactional pressure under which we are all now operating.”

As if that wasn’t enough to think the White House desired to appease a top donor, Jonathan Silver, executive director of the Department of Energy loan programs Jonathan Silver said in a June 25, 2010 email that “the WH wants to move Abound forward.” A week later, on July 3, President Obama himself announced Abound’s $400 million loan. Is it possible that Pat Stryker’s visit on July 4 to the White House was to deliver a personal “thank you?”

The president had as much reason to thank Stryker as she had to thank him. She had donated $475,599 to federal Democrat candidates and causes over the 2008 to 2012 election cycles, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Included in that amount was $11,900 in maximum contributions to President Obama’s two campaigns for the White House, and Stryker also was an $87,500 bundler for the president’s Inaugural Committee, and she donated $50,000 herself. The Sunlight Foundation also reported that she gave $35,800 to the 2012 Obama Victory Fund.

Stryker – best known as one of the extremely wealthy “Four Horsemen” who created the infrastructure that turned Colorado from a Red State to Blue in 2008 – also has contributed millions of dollars to Democrat candidates for state and federal office in her lifetime. Among those are gifts was to former U.S. Rep. Betsy Markey, whose district included Abound – $9,400 made up of max contributions for her 2008 and 2010 successful runs for office. Abound helped pay for ads in 2009 that thanked Markey for voting for the cap-and-trade bill that passed the House that year, which would have benefited renewable energy companies. Markey was one of the signers of the letter to push for approval of the loan guarantee for Abound.

“Without the loan guarantees, they would not be able to really move forward on this project,” Markey said. “It’s seed money that’s going to be fully paid back by Abound.”

Besides that lie, there is the falsehood that Abound produced an environmentally friendly product. In February this year Colorado ordered the bankrupt company to clean up the toxic waste it left behind. According to Web site, it cost taxpayers $2.2 million to pour concrete over the useless modules.

Ironically Stryker was recognized with an honorary degree by Colorado State University in Spring 2011 for her support of “innovative solutions to the global issues of the environment, poverty, public health and natural disasters.” And her campaign contributions to Leftist candidates have continued with $30,400 donated so far in this Colorado non-election year, which included $5,000 to New Jersey Senate candidate Cory Booker.

So life goes on, crony capitalism continues, and the little people get left behind with the costs and the trash in the world of allegedly enviro-conscious liberals.

Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center and publishes, an aggregator of North Carolina news.