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Panel probes White House support of Colorado company

First Published Oct 30 2012 05:14 pm • Last Updated Oct 30 2012 05:14 pm

Denver • Emails between an independent consultant and the Obama administration suggest the consultant felt pressure to help arrange a loan guarantee for a Colorado solar panel manufacturer that later went bankrupt.

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce asked the administration this month to explain what the U.S. Department of Energy knew about problems with a $400 million federal loan guarantee awarded to Abound Solar.

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The Loveland-based company filed for bankruptcy protection this summer and laid off about 125 workers after spending approximately $70 million of its loan guarantees.

An Abound spokesman didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.

Abound has been compared to Solyndra, a California solar panel maker that went bankrupt last year after spending a $535 million federal loan guarantee.

Department of Energy spokesman Damien LaVera said the agency provided documents about Abound Solar to Congress and insisted politics were not a factor in granting the loan guarantees.

Republican Colorado Rep. Cory Gardner, a member of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, said Tuesday the administration knew in advance there were problems with the company’s finances.

Emails between the department and an independent consultant, Jim McCrea, suggest McCrea felt pressure to help arrange the loan guarantee.

In a 2010 email sent about two months before the loan was announced, McCrea said technical analysts "have major issues with the transaction," including company plans for a second plant and the high price of mineral supplies needed by the firm.

Despite the warnings, the Energy Department told an agency contractor that the "WH (White House) wants to move Abound forward."

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The documents first appeared on CompleteColorado.com, a website operated by the Colorado-based, free-market-oriented Independence Institute. The Denver Post reported on the documents Tuesday.

The Department of Energy said the documents were just a few of more than 1 million pages of records provided to Congress.

"While some in Congress continue to cherry-pick individual emails in a misguided effort to misrepresent the facts, nothing in any of the ... documents the department has voluntarily provided to Congress demonstrates anything except what we have consistently said from day one: Decisions on loan applications were made on the merits after careful review by career officials and technical experts in the loan program," LaVera said in a statement.

The Weld County district attorney’s office said last week it is investigating Abound Solar for possible securities fraud, consumer fraud and financial misrepresentation, but that no charges have been filed. That investigation, which is separate from the congressional review, involves allegations that Abound knew it was selling defective products.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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