WASHINGTON, Oct 6 (Reuters) – The Obama administration said
on Thursday its top energy loans official was stepping down,
following a widening probe into the embarrassing collapse of a
solar panel company that got $535 million in federal support.
Jonathan Silver, a venture capitalist who had also worked
for the Clinton administration, was leaving because the loan
program had allocated all its funding, Energy Secretary Steven
Silver’s resignation comes, however, as Republicans in
Congress probe the White House’s role in backing government
loans given to Solyndra, a California solar panel maker, in
2009. Solyndra filed for bankruptcy in August, and is under
investigation by the FBI.
President Barack Obama, who spoke at a news conference
before Silver’s resignation was announced, defended the Energy
Department’s handling of the loans program and said the
government should not back down from its support for clean
Silver joined the Energy Department after the Solyndra
guarantee was awarded, but he was in charge in February when
the government agreed to restructure the debt as the company
ran out of cash.
In that restructuring, some $75 million in private
investment was ranked ahead of the government in the event of
bankruptcy. That private fund was backed by a prominent Obama
Silver, under grilling by House of Representatives
Republicans last month in a hearing, told them the decision was
carefully weighed by lawyers and analysts.
Silver’s resignation “does not solve the problem,” Stearns
and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton said in a
statement, vowing to continue their investigation.
Silver served as an adviser to commerce, interior and
treasury secretaries in previous administrations. Before his stint with the Energy Department, he founded Core Capital Partners, a venture capital fund that invested in
alternative energy technology. He had also worked for the hedge
fund Tiger Management.
When he joined the Energy Department, the loans office had
only 35 employees, and he was charged with speeding up the
process for evaluating applications and delivering loan
guarantees to spur clean energy jobs — a key part of the Obama
administration’s energy policy.
After Solyndra, the department approved 27 other loan
guarantees for a total value of $16 billion. Nearly a dozen of
those were approved in the last two weeks of September, right
before funding for the program expired.
The moderate Third Way think tank said Silver would join
the organization to work on energy policy issues.
“It’s a shame that DOE is losing a tremendous asset,” said
Neil Auerbach, managing partner with Hudson Clean Energy
Partners, who called Silver “a very competent executive who did
a tremendous amount to organize the loan guarantee program.” Hudson Clean Energy Partners is a private equity firm that
invests in clean energy companies, including solar panel maker
SoloPower, the recipient of a DOE loan guarantee.
Obama said on Thursday the program, created by Congress
during the George W. Bush administration, was necessary to help
the United States remain competitive in the clean energy sector
that has become dominated by China and Europe.