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Carney: New solar failure got subsidies from Dems and GOP

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Photo - Amonix, a politically connected solar company that is closing its Las Vegas facility, has received subsidies from Democrats and Republicans. (Getty Images)
Amonix, a politically connected solar company that is closing its Las Vegas facility, has received subsidies from Democrats and Republicans. (Getty Images)

Another politically connected subsidy-suckling solar company has hit the financial rocks, and once again, revolving-door lobbyists and Obama bundlers are implicated. But this time the GOP is on the hook, too.

Amonix announced last week it was closing down its 214,000-square-foot Las Vegas factory that makes solar panels. The news generated schadenfreude among Republicans eager to pin another Solyndra-like green energy failure on President Obama. The Republican National Committee sent out an email citing Amonix as yet another example of "Obama's failed record."

But Amonix has been raking in federal subsidies since Obama was palling around with Bill Ayers in Hyde Park.

Federal records show Amonix winning a federal grant in 1995 for "a low-cost receiver plate manufacturing process for [a] high-concentration photovoltaic system."

Bill Clinton's Department of Energy in August 2000 gave Amonix another grant -- $49,559 -- for "high-density packing of solar cells." Bush's DOE threw three more grants at that same project, bringing the total to $657,000.

George W. Bush wasn't done with Amonix. Between 2004 and 2005, the DOE sent $656,000 in grants to the solar company for a "photovoltaic-to-hydrogen energy system."

The spigot really started flowing in July 2007, when Bush's DOE awarded the company a "Renewable Energy Research & Development" grant. Over the next 18 months, the DOE doled out $5.5 million to Amonix under this grant. Amonix pocketed an additional $10.1 million under this grant from the Obama administration.

In January 2010, Obama announced $9.6 million in stimulus-created "Advanced-Energy Manufacturing Tax Credits" for Amonix to open manufacturing facilities. Data on the White House website indicate this money was to be split between two facilities, one in Las Vegas and one in Phoenix. Amonix, though, never made enough money to owe taxes that would allow the company to utilize those tax credits, according to Bloomberg News.

The lack of profits didn't slow the federal subsidies, though. In February 2011, Amonix won a $9 million federal loan guarantee for manufacturing solar panels for export. The guarantee, through the Export-Import Bank Working Capital Loan Guarantee Program, didn't cost taxpayers money, Ex-Im spokesman Phil Cogan told me Friday, because Amonix never actually borrowed the money.

In March 2011, the Treasury Department awarded a $355,000 green energy grant under Section 1603 of Obama's stimulus bill. Two months later, Amonix pocketed $5.3 million through a Section 1603 grant, according to records at treasury.gov.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu awarded Amonix a $4.7 million grant in September 2011, as part of his "SunShot Initiative," subsidizing solar manufacturers. The Energy Department says none of that grant money was paid to the company.

That same month, Amonix got itself some Solyndra-style money -- though indirectly.

Under the same stimulus program that put taxpayers on the hook for Solyndra's bankruptcy, Chu awarded a $90.6 million loan guarantee to Cogentrix Energy, which the company used to buy solar panels from Amonix. (Cogentrix is an energy venture owned by Goldman Sachs since 2003. In effect, the Obama administration was forcing taxpayers, once again, to cover Goldman Sachs' potential losses.)

The guarantee subsidized Cogentrix's construction of a solar-fueled power plant in Colorado. The DOE's website says the $90.6 million guarantee created 10 permanent jobs and 30 construction jobs. Cogentrix spokesman Jef Freeman told me Amonix has already provided all the solar panels for the Colorado program.

Amonix, no surprise, is politically connected. Venture capitalist Steve Westly, who raised at least $500,000 for Obama's 2008 election, was a major investor. Amonix.com touts the Westly Group's "extensive operating experience in the private and public sectors, from Silicon Valley to Washington, D.C. and beyond."

Amonix hired K Street's ML Strategies, where its registered lobbyists included Jordan Collins, an Obama appointee to the DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which administered Amonix's $15 million in R&D grants. Also on the Amonix account at ML Strategies was David Leiter, who ran the EERE under Clinton.

Amonix's late CEO, Brian Robertson, was a Harry Reid donor, and the company's modest political action committee has donated all its money to Democrats this cycle.

But Republicans were just as likely as Democrats to shovel taxpayer money at Amonix. The company's biggest subsidy was the $15 million R&D grant that Bush awarded. At the Las Vegas plant's groundbreaking in 2011, Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval declared, "This is the essence of what we're trying to accomplish" in his push to make Nevada "the renewable-energy capital of the world."

While taxpayers don't have the same exposure to Amonix as they did to Solyndra, it is yet another solar company to swallow up taxpayer money before failing. Obama's Energy Department says it'll keep backing solar power anyway, but maybe Republicans could learn a lesson.

Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.

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