When news broke earlier this week that Solar Trust of America (a big solar company backed by the US Department of Energy) had filed for bankruptcy, conservatives predictably took to the airwaves to denounce the Obama administration’s energy policy. “Another $2 billion of taxpayer money lost on solar companies,” read one headline. “Another Obama Solar Company Goes Bankrupt … Taxpayers Lose $2 BILLION?” screamed another. The only problem? Solar Trust of America never took the money.
Here’s what really happened: In April 2011, the US DoE made a conditional commitment for a $2.1-billion loan guarantee to Solar Trust of America LLC, which sought to build the world’s largest solar power project in the southern California desert. However, in August 2011, the company withdrew from the loan guarantee program, and it never saw any taxpayer money. The deal would have been 4 times as big as Solyndra’s, but as Politico notes, the photovoltaic panels that Solar Trust wanted to use weren’t advanced enough to meet the Department of Energy’s requirements.
But facts are a mere inconvenience when a story as juicy as this breaks. Even the Associated Press and Reuters initially got it wrong – both wire services either corrected the record or updated their stories. The false reports were later relayed by Republican Congressman David Schweikert on Twitter and Rush Limbaugh on the radio. The future of the Blythe project is currently uncertain; according to Politico, the energy company NextEra Energy Resources has expressed interest in buying some of Solar Trust’s projects, although it hasn’t yet specified which ones.