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New setback for government green energy program

By Laurie Bennett

May 26, 2012 at 4:24pm

More bad news today on the green energy front could mean more fodder for political groups attacking President Obama’s energy policies.

Greentech Media reports that 120 workers have been “furloughed” at the Antelope Valley Solar Ranch project in Lancaster, CA.

First Solar is building the photovoltaic plant at the site for Exelon Corporation. The project was awarded a $646 million loan through the U.S. Department of Energy loan program in September.

The program has been sharply criticized by Obama’s opponents, who note the bankruptcy of one of the recipients, Solyndra, as well as loans made to projects involving several Obama fundraisers.

According to DOE documents, the project has contracted with PG&E for purchase of its electric output for 25 years.

Greentech Media reports that First Solar has been engaged in weeks of negotiations with county government inspectors over the safety of solar panels being installed on the site.

First Solar is a contractor for several projects with DOE loan guarantees, including the California Valley Solar Ranch and the Topaz Solar Farm in San Luis Obispo, and the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm in Riverside County, CA.

In March, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform issued a report predicting that Solyndra’s collapse was just the beginning of problems for federal-backed projects.

“There appears to be a significant amount of evidence indicating that DOE manipulated analysis and strategically modified evaluations in order to issue loans to First Solar that would qualify under the statutory guidelines,” the report said.

The conservative organization Americans for Prosperity has spent millions of dollars in TV advertising pointing out the Solyndra failure and accusing Obama of “risking billions of taxpayer dollars to help his political donors.”

In this instance, however, investors in First Solar include some big Republican donors. Members of the Walton family, heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune, have a major stake in the firm.

Jim Walton and his sister, Alice, have each contributed $200,000 to the super PAC supporting Mitt Romney.

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