WASHINGTON | Thu Oct 27, 2011 9:01pm EDT
(Reuters) – Energy Secretary Steven Chu will testify on November 17 to a group of lawmakers investigating his department’s $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra, a solar panel company that has since filed for bankruptcy and was raided by the FBI.
Chu has been a passionate advocate of government help for renewable energy companies trying to commercialize new technologies. Solyndra was the much-touted first recipient of a “green energy” loan when President Barack Obama’s administration took office.
Republicans on the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee have turned the company’s failure into a high-profile political embarrassment for the administration, highlighting connections between Obama fundraisers and Solyndra.
Administration officials have said decisions on the project were made on merit, and have denied accusations that donors had any influence on its loan.
The committee has gathered more than 70,000 pages of emails and other documents from the Energy Department, White House, and other agencies on the loan, and held a series of hearings.
Chu would be the highest-level official to appear before the panel, which is the day after a court-slated deadline for bids for the failed company.
Solyndra has told Delaware’s bankruptcy court it has received interest from 25 potential buyers for all or parts of its operations.
The Republican leading the investigation said the committee wants to know why the Energy Department ignored warnings about Solyndra before granting the loan, and then agreed to a restructuring plan that ranked taxpayers’ investment behind some private investors in the event of bankruptcy.
“We are also interested in why Secretary Chu and the Energy Department, at a time when Solyndra was fresh out of cash, still went ahead and restructured Solyndra’s loan in violation of the plain letter of the law,” Cliff Stearns, head of the energy committee’s oversight panel, said in a statement.