Published October 31, 2011
An energy company that received a $43 million loan guarantee through the same federal program that backed Solyndra has followed the path of the failed solar firm and filed for bankruptcy.
Beacon Power Corporation filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Sunday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware. The company, which develops energy storage systems based on what are known as "flywheels," had received the federal guarantee for a 20-megawatt energy storage plant in Stephentown, N.Y., back in August 2010.
The loan was expected to cover the lion's share of the $69 million project, one of several that Beacon was developing across the country.
But the company's CEO said in a statement to the court that all those projects are "capital intensive," and the firm is struggling to attract the additional investment needed to keep everything running. The fact that the company faced being de-listed from the NASDAQ didn't help, he said.
"At present, the revenues generated from the operation … are not sufficient to fully support those business operations, and the debtors currently operate at a loss," CEO F. William Capp said in the court statement. "In addition, the current economic and political climate, the financing terms mandated by DOE and Beacon's recent de-listing notice from NASDAQ have together severely restricted Beacon's access to additional investments through the equity markets."
The Massachusetts-based company also received $29 million in grants from the Energy Department and the state of Pennsylvania through separate programs for a plant in Hazle Township, Pa.
Beacon Power Corporation has not responded to a request for comment from FoxNews.com.
The bankruptcy filing comes as members of Congress dig deeper in their investigation into the billions of dollars in federal loan guarantees that were committed to alternative energy companies, including Solyndra. The Obama administration has also opened an inquiry.
Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., who sits on the House Energy and Commerce oversight subcommittee probing the program, said the news about Beacon Power is troubling.
"We're very, very concerned about this and many other loans that have been made by the Department of Energy over the last several years," he told Fox News on Monday. Griffith said plenty of companies in the U.S. would make "good prospects" for federal help, but the committee investigation is trying to find out whether the government was "just trying to get the money out the door."
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, called the revelation of the bankruptcy another example of "the reckless abuse of taxpayers' dollars in the pursuit of green jobs." He also suggested that crony capitalism had a hand in the decision to give Beacon a loan.
One of the most controversial aspects of the Solyndra case -- aside from the sheer size of the $535 million guarantee -- was a decision earlier this year to prioritize private investors over taxpayers in case of bankruptcy. Republicans have accused the administration of giving precedence to investors in the companies who are also Obama backers.
"As with Solyndra, the head of Beacon Power appears to have been a supporter of President Obama's," Sessions said in a statement.
"Increasingly, we are moving away from our capitalist heritage and towards a system where most Americans play by the rules while some are able to rig the game in their favor. The real divide is not split along income lines, but between the politically-connected and those—whether businesses or individuals—who just want the freedom to earn a living."
But an Energy Department spokesman said the agreement with Beacon included "many protections for the taxpayer" and that the government is the only "senior, secured lender" in the project.
"Protecting taxpayer dollars remains the top priority for Secretary (Steven) Chu and the department," spokesman Damien LaVera said in a statement. "The department's loan guarantee is for the project Stephentown Regulation Services, LLC, not the parent company, and the loan was set up in a way that ensures the department is not directly exposed to the liabilities of the parent company."
LaVera noted that the New York plant, "which is operational and generating revenue," is a "valuable collateral asset" for the company as it enters bankruptcy proceedings.
"Under the terms of our loan guarantee agreement, Stephentown Regulation Services, LLC currently has cash reserves and proceeds from the plant that it was required to hold as collateral on the loan," LaVera said.
According to court filings, the company owes the government $39.1 million under the loan – though it had authority to borrow up to $43 million. LaVera said the company did not borrow the full amount because the plant was under budget.
When the project was approved, the Energy Department reported that the loan guarantee would help save or create 14 permanent jobs and 20 construction jobs.
Capp emphasized in the court filing that the company has a number of positive factors going for it.
After investing $200 million on "research and development" and racking up nearly three dozen patents, Capp said the company’s "long-term prospects are strong."
He said the company’s "engineering and other technical personnel are excellent" and can produce "niche" products demanded by the marketplace.
He also noted a recent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission decision would make grid operators pay more for faster services -- and said Beacon’s systems, which "react in seconds," should allow the company to "earn significantly increased revenues" this way.
Energy Department spokesman Dan Leistikow also cited the FERC decision in touting the Beacon loan guarantee on an Energy Department blog Monday. He said the decision could help the company generate more revenue.
Defending the decision to back Beacon, Leistikow said the company is trying to address a lack of energy storage in the U.S., which accounts for a weakness in the country’s power grid.
"Even a small increase in America’s energy storage capacity would make our system more flexible, stable, and reliable, and play an important role in our overall effort to reduce the number of costly power disruptions each year," he said. "One promising new technology for dealing with the moment-to-moment fluctuations in our power grid is flywheel energy storage."
Flywheels like those developed by Beacon, he said, "are ‘charged’ by using electricity to spin them faster and ‘discharged’ by using flywheels to spin a turbine and generate electricity."
He described the Beacon plant as a "shock absorber" for the grid, and said it was the first of its kind in the world.
He also noted that, unlike with Solyndra, the plant funded with help from DOE is still operational.
Campaign finance records show top Beacon officials contributing to Democratic candidates. Capp apparently was an Obama supporter, giving at least $500 to the Obama campaign in 2008. He also donated to Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass.
Beacon employee Matthew Polimeno has donated $750 since 2008 to Tsongas’ campaign and another $250 to the failed campaign of Massachusetts Democratic Senate candidate Martha Coakley. CFO James Spiezio also donated $250 to the Coakley campaign in 2009.