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Solyndra, the sequel? Bankrupt solar firm, DOE facing scrutiny over panel problems

 

House Republicans are pressing the Obama administration for more information about a solar-panel company that received a $400 million loan guarantee, then went bankrupt and is now the focus of a criminal investigation. 

The committee pursuing documents on Colorado-based Abound Solar is the same that investigated the half-billion taxpayer loan to Solyndra, whose bankruptcy rocked the Obama administration. Two more Department of Energy-backed companies have since filed for bankruptcy, with Abound Solar being the latest. 

Lawmakers are now questioning whether the administration might have known about serious problems with the company's solar panels before it was guaranteed the loan in December 2010 under the stimulus program. 

"Abound is the third company that has received a DOE loan to go bankrupt," the House Committee on Energy and Commerce told Energy Secretary Steven Chu in a letter Wednesday. "The committee seeks to better understand what DOE knew about problems with Abound's solar panels prior to finalizing its $400 million loan guarantee." 

The Energy Department halted the funding just nine months after approving the loan guarantee, but not before the company had pocketed $70 million in funds. 

Abound filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, claiming Chinese competition put them out of business. 

The letter from Congress was sent as the Weld County District Attorney's Office in Colorado confirmed to FoxNews.com it is conducting a criminal investigation into Abound. Spokesman Heath Montgomery declined to comment on the nature of the investigation. 

The committee letter was also sent about a week after The Daily Caller reported that internal documents and sources revealed Abound's panels were defective and claimed the company "may have misled lenders at one point"  to stay afloat. 

"Recent reports and publicly available documents indicate that persistent technological problems contributed to Abound's inability to remain commercially viable and ultimately, its bankruptcy," said the three-page letter, signed by committee Chairman Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Reps. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., and Cory Gardner, R-Colo. 

They mentioned one review before the finalization of the DOE loan guarantee that found the panels were losing output the more they were exposed to sunlight. 

The lawmakers wrote: "While documents prepared at the time DOE awarded a conditional commitment to Abound do not mention any technological problems, an engineering report submitted to DOE just two months before DOE closed Abound's $400 million loan guarantee indicate that Abound's panels were already experiencing significant efficiency and technological difficulties." 

The lawmakers asked Chu for all engineering reports, analyses and other documents pertaining to Abound. 

The two other DOE-backed companies that went bankrupt were Beacon Power, an energy storage company, and the California-based Solyndra solar panel company. The latter company continues to wend its way through bankruptcy proceedings. In the latest development, the IRS reportedly objected to the company's recently filed bankruptcy plan, claiming its objective is "tax avoidance." 

President Obama touted Solyndra as an example of an alternative-energy jobs creator before it went bankrupt in September 2011, resulting in an FBI and congressional investigation. The Energy Department says it has already provided congressional investigators with more than 1 million pages of documents and made department officials available for more than 16 Capitol Hill hearings on that front. 

The agency, in reference to the latest inquiry, pointed out Wednesday that Abound's funding had "strong bipartisan support" including an Energy Department grant under the Bush administration.