Politics

Potential Buyers Show Little Interest in Solyndra

The exterior view of bankrupt Solyndra is seen in Fremont, Calif., Sept. 16.

The exterior view of bankrupt Solyndra is seen in Fremont, Calif., Sept. 16.  (AP)

A California solar panel manufacturer that received a half-billion dollar loan from the U.S. government has been unable to attract much interest in a buyer and now hopes to sell its assets piece by piece.

Officials with Solyndra LLC told a U.S. bankruptcy trustee on Tuesday that no qualified bidders have come forward to keep the company going.

Solyndra's chief restructuring officer, Todd Neilson, said the company had received only one bid despite contacting more than 100 prospective buyers. The bid deadline has been extended twice.

"It was extremely low-ball," he said. "It was mainly designed to take the equipment and the real estate at an extraordinarily low price."

Neilson said five potential bidders -- mostly from other countries -- are still conducting due diligence, and it's "highly unlikely" one will want to buy its whole operation.

Solyndra, which was touted by the Obama administration as a "green jobs" creator, filed for bankruptcy protection in September, and its failure has turned into a political embarrassment.

Administration officials have blamed the failure on cheap imports from China, the collapse of the European market for solar panels and other market changes. Some congressional leaders are upset that private investors will be repaid before U.S. taxpayers in a loan restructuring deal.

Solyndra is now looking at separate auctions for its machinery and equipment, real estate and intellectual property.

Solyndra representatives blamed the lack of interest on the economy, not the political fallout stemming from Solyndra's failure.

"It's a difficult economic environment. It's a difficult industry," Debra Grassgreen, a Solyndra bankruptcy attorney, said after a creditors meeting Tuesday morning.

Grassgreen told U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Mary Walrath at a hearing later Tuesday that Solyndra would seek the court's permission late Tuesday or Wednesday to auction off its machinery and equipment in late January if no acceptable overall bid is received by a Jan. 17 deadline.

Solyndra's bankruptcy filing came several months after a February loan restructuring in which some $70 million borrowed from private investors got priority over $385 million in taxpayer money for repayment in the event of a default.

Under the restructuring, the investment firms Argonaut Ventures and Madrone Partners LP stand to be repaid before U.S. taxpayers. Congressional leaders have said allowing private investors to move ahead of taxpayers for repayment may have been illegal.

Argonaut is an investment vehicle of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, which is headed by billionaire George Kaiser, a major Obama campaign contributor and a frequent visitor to the White House.

Following its bankruptcy filing, Solyndra became the target of separate investigations by the FBI and congressional Republicans.

Testifying before a House committee last week, Energy Secretary Steven Chu defended the federal loan to Solyndra, but at the same time said he was unaware of many details about the loan or financial problems that Solyndra faced -- including predictions by his staff two years ago that the company would likely face severe cash-flow problems.

Chu denied he was influenced by Kaiser, who invested $400 million in Solyndra. Kaiser has said he played no part in helping Solyndra win the 2009 loan, but emails released earlier this month show he discussed Solyndra with the White House at least once. Kaiser also directed business associates on how to approach the White House and the Energy Department to help Solyndra deal with its financial problems.

Chu denied anyone in the White House ever contacted him to make a political decision on the loan.