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Solyndra Loan Program on Pace to Commit Equivalent of $6M Per Permanent Job


September 8, 2011: This picture shows the Solyndra headquarters in Fremont, Calif. (AP)

As the Energy Department moves to finalize the last remaining loan guarantees from a controversial clean-energy fund, the federal government is on pace to put up more than $6 million for every permanent job saved or created by the program. 

As of late Friday afternoon, the program that doled out money to now-bankrupt solar firm Solyndra has backed up $16 billion in clean-energy loans. And although the program, which expires Friday, aims to wean the country off fossil fuels and build up the alternative power industry, it also has been touted as a jobs generator.

The loan guarantees do not necessarily represent an actual government payment -- they are a commitment by the government to assume debt if a company or project goes under. But in the case of Solyndra, the government ended up lending $528 million, with taxpayers on the hook in the wake of the bankruptcy. 

For all the money the federal government is putting on the line to support renewable energy projects that administration officials say are the key to winning the future, the program has saved or created about 2,500 permanent jobs. That's $6.4 million per job. 

The numbers come from Department of Energy figures reviewed by If temporary construction jobs are lumped in, the jobs total rises to more than 16,700.

Counting all jobs, the government is still committing the equivalent of nearly $1 million per job. 

The number of jobs pegged to each project varies widely. A $197 million loan guarantee for an Oregon solar panel firm was estimated to create or save 500 permanent jobs. A separate $737 million loan guarantee finalized this week for a Nevada solar facility was tied to just 45 permanent jobs -- as well as 600 construction jobs. A $646 million loan guarantee being announced Friday for a California solar facility is projected to fund 20 permanent jobs and 350 construction jobs. 

"Where are the jobs?" Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., chairman of the House panel looking into the Solyndra case, said in a statement Friday. "Here we have a stimulus program in its final hours with DOE poised to rush billions out the door, yet the latest $646 million loan creates just 20 permanent operations jobs -- that's $32 million per job!"

The Department of Energy argues the tally is actually much higher when other programs are factored in. The department's loan office administers three different programs and in a statement earlier this month estimated they've created or saved about 44,000 jobs total. That tally factors in construction jobs, as well as the 33,000 jobs the administration claims were saved by a Ford loan through a program designed to support emerging vehicle technologies. 

Federal officials indicate the program is not just about creating jobs. Administration officials have stressed the program is meant to help the United States expand on its relatively modest foothold in the clean-energy market. 

Jonathan Silver, director of the Department of Energy Loan Programs Office, testified before a House committee investigating the matter that China is home to five of the 10 largest solar manufacturers, and Asia as a whole is home to seven of them. The United States, he said, is home to just two. 

"It is in this context that we should discuss the Solyndra transaction," he said, describing the program as a matter of national interest. 

"Developing a robust clean-energy manufacturing sector in the United States is critical to our long-term national interests, and one of the most important tools as our global competitors have already learned is low-cost financing effectively targeted and deployed," he said. "We invented this technology, and we should produce it here." 

A department statement also said the program is designed to encourage others in the private sector to take their own financial risks and back similar projects. 

Though Solyndra went bust, administration officials say they have been conducting extensive analysis on the remaining loans. 

The department said in a statement that every application "has undergone many months of due diligence." The department said analysts are evaluating applications to make sure they are "commercially viable." 

A few of the commitments offered the Department of Energy are partial guarantees. 

The loan guarantees cover everything from solar to wind to geothermal projects, many of which are based in Western states.