China Blamed, Obama Bashed In Abound Solar Hearing

House Republicans and Democrats tussled on Wednesday over the Abound Solar failure in much the way they clashed countless times before over the earlier solar loan guarantee flop – the infamous Solyndra case – but this latest go-round came with a big dose of the au courant China issue.

The hearing before the Oversight and Government Reform Committee – actually, before just a handful of members of the committee, drifting in and out of the hearing room – came two weeks after the Colorado thin-film panel manufacturer declared bankruptcy. Abound had received a $400 million loan guarantee, but the government in September cut off the company’s drawdown on the money at $70 million, when it became clear that things weren’t going quite as planned.

Abound solar, loan guarantee

image via Oversight.House.Gov

The Republicans did not use the hearing to congratulate the Obama administration on saving the taxpayers an additional $330 million in possible losses.

Instead, they asserted that the loan to Abound was doomed from the start, and said the assistance the company got was nothing more than an intrusion into the free market made worse by either the incompetence or the corruption of the U.S. Department of Energy officials running the program. Or maybe both.

In a new twist, the Republicans also tried to tie their critique of the loan program to the Romney campaign’s claim that President Obama’s 2009 stimulus ended up boosting job growth in China.

Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) led the charge. He mocked an Obama campaign graphic that had dots scattered across the nation, representing jobs created by the Recovery Act’s green provisions, and substituted a graphic of his own. Under the title, “Jobs Created By President Obama’s Clean Energy Initiatives,” it showed China in bright red, with the caption, “From ‘Shovel Ready’ to Shanghai.”

As an example of the clean energy program creating jobs in China, Kelly cited the Mesquite Solar I utility-scale solar PV project in Arizona, which received a $337 million loan guarantee. Kelly said the Suntech panels used at the plant, some of which come from a Suntech factory in Goodyear, Ariz., don’t count as U.S. inputs because the solar cells that go into the panels are manufactured in China. “How many jobs did we create in China using taxpayer money?” the congressman asked rhetorically.

Nonetheless, according to Suntech, the Goodyear plant has three shifts running around the clock, five days a week, and employs more than 100 Arizonans.

In addition, some 450 workers have been at work on the Mesquite job site, according to plant owner Sempra Generation, installing 4,500 panels a day. By December last year, 42 megawatts of the 150 MW plant had been completed and connected to the grid. The entire plant is expected to be done by early next year. Power from the facility is sold to the Northern California utility Pacific Gas and Electric under 20-year contract.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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