WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama said Monday he has no regrets about granting a $528 million federal loan to Solyndra Inc., arguing it wasn't possible for the Department of Energy's loan-guarantee program to back winners every time.
"There are going to be some failures, and Solyndra's an example," Obama said in an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos.
China is pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into the solar market, the president noted on "Good Morning America" on Monday. For American renewable-energy companies to have a fair shot, he added, the DOE's program must help subsidize emerging technologies.
"Hindsight is always 20-20," said Obama of the administration's 2009 decision to give more than half a billion dollars in federal loans to Solyndra, the California solar company that laid off 1,100 workers and filed for bankruptcy last month. "It went through the regular review process and people felt that it was a good bet."
Many have cautioned that the drama around Solyndra is overblown. The Solyndra loan represents just 1.3 percent of the $39 billion in loans that the loan-guarantee program has generated thus far, and only around 3 percent of the total loan guarantees targeting the solar industry. The fact that Solyndra received up to $1 billion in private sector banking alone would suggest that leaders at the DOE weren't the only ones who saw promise in the technology.
But that hasn't discouraged the Obama administration's Republican critics, who argue the government should not be in the business of selecting clean energy winners and losers.
Internal documents released on Monday show that the administration had significant concerns about the Solyndra loan guarantee, though some officials at the DOE initially downplayed the warnings, arguing the solar company was in good financial health.
In particular, the emails highlight the reservations of DOE adviser Steve Westly, who said in an email to the White House that he was worried Solyndra could not "survive long-term," and urged the president to avoid embarrassment by reevaluating his decision to visit the now-bankrupt company.
The trip, Westly warned, "could haunt him in the next 18 months if Solyndra hits the wall, files for bankruptcy..."
On May 26, 2010, two days after receiving Westly's warning, the president visited Solyndra's headquarters in Fremont, Calif.