Sept. 1, 2011 | It was not long ago that the Solyndra solar panel facility was a symbol of President Barack Obama’s support of new green technologies. After the company filed for bankruptcy Wednesday and cut 1,100 high-paying jobs the Fremont firm is now represent growing disenchantment with the president’s inability to nudge job growth.
Unemployment in Alameda County at 11 percent already outstrips national figures and with a significant number of high-paid skilled workers looking for scant traces of work, the pressure will likely increase for East Bay job seekers.
“This is devastating news,” said Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, “It’s time for all state lawmakers to wake up to the fact we must act with urgency to protect jobs and help nurture California’s economy back to good health. When we don’t, our families and communities suffer.
Corbett (D-San Leandro), who also represents Fremont and a portion of San Jose, foresees the closing of Solyndra reverberating across the region. “The instant loss of 1,100 jobs in my district is big blow that will have negative trickle-down effects throughout the Bay Area,” she said.
While Corbett says it is too late to save Solyndra’s financial situation, legislation she offered in the past would give solar companies based in California a five percent bid preference on potential state contracts. “If California is going to place solar panels on state property, shouldn’t we try to use panels made in California? Isn’t it common sense to use taxpayer dollars to support California jobs?
But, critics, including Republicans, will likely scoff at government investing in companies like Solyndra when the downside of such investments may ultimately cost taxpayers more than the initial half billion dollar investment.
Obama’s appearance at the Fremont facility last year was in part to herald the administration’s $535 million loan guarantee hoping to signal investment toward emerging manufacturing technologies. What it failed to do, according to the Government Accounting Office, is prepare due diligence before offering Solyndra the large loan guarantee in 2009.
The Washington Post reports the GAO found a year after the loan the Department of Energy failed to properly assess the loan risk of five companies, one which included Solyndra. Critics of the deal have begun connecting the dots surrounding the run-up to deal. The GAO reported Solyndra’s loan, which occurred in the early weeks of the Obama administration, was pushed through less than two month’s after Berkeley green tech guru Stephen Chu was named energy secretary and without completing the review process.
One of Solyndra’s primary investors is also Oklahoma billionaire George Kaiser, who was a major contributor to Obama’s presidential campaign.
The loss of Solyndra and its 1,100 skilled workers is yet another blow to Fremont’s once-flourishing manufacturing sector. Last year, Toyota pulled the plug on the Nummi auto plant putting over 4,000 people out of work. A portion of the former plant will soon become part of electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors, bringing back roughly a quarter of the jobs lost last year by the Nummi closure.