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Potential Solyndra Buyers Show Little Interest

Tue, 11/22/2011 - 8:48am

WILMINGTON, Delaware (AP) — A California solar panel manufacturer that received a half-billion dollar loan from the U.S. government before declaring bankruptcy said Tuesday it's been unable to attract real interest from potential buyers to take over its operations.

Instead, Solyndra LLC is looking at a piecemeal sale of its assets, with separate auctions for its machinery and equipment, real estate and intellectual property.

Solyndra, which was touted by the Obama administration as a "green jobs" creator, filed for bankruptcy protection in September, and its failure has turned into a political embarrassment. Administration officials have blamed the failure on cheap imports from China, the collapse of the European market for solar panels and other market changes. Some congressional leaders are upset that private investors will be repaid before U.S. taxpayers in a loan restructuring deal.

Solyndra officials told a U.S. bankruptcy trustee Tuesday that no qualified bidders have come forward to buy the company and take over its manufacturing operations. Chief restructuring officer Todd Neilson said Solyndra had received only one bid for a sale of the whole company.

"It was extremely low-ball," he said. "It was mainly designed to take the equipment and the real estate at an extraordinarily low price."

Neilson said fewer than five potential bidders, mostly from other countries, are still conducting due diligence. But it is "highly unlikely" that a buyer willing to buy Solyndra outright and continue its operations would emerge, he said.

Solyndra representatives blamed the lack of interest on the economy, not on the political fallout.

"It's a difficult economic environment. It's a difficult industry," Debra Grassgreen, a Solyndra bankruptcy attorney, said after a creditors meeting Tuesday.

The company's bankruptcy filing came several months after a February loan restructuring in which some $70 million borrowed from private investors got priority over $385 million in taxpayer money for repayment in the event of a default.

Under the February restructuring, Argonaut Ventures and another private investment firm, Madrone Partners LP, stand to be repaid before U.S. taxpayers. Congressional leaders have said allowing private investors to move ahead of taxpayers for repayment may have been illegal.

Argonaut is an investment vehicle of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, which is headed by Oklahoma billionaire George Kaiser, a major Obama campaign contributor and a frequent visitor to the White House.

Following its bankruptcy filing, Solyndra became the target of separate investigations by the FBI and congressional Republicans.

Testifying before a House committee last week, Energy Secretary Steven Chu defended the federal loan to Solyndra, but at that same time said he was unaware of many details about the loan or financial problems that Solyndra faced, including predictions by DOE staff two years ago that the company would likely face severe cash-flow problems.

Chu also denied that he was influenced by Kaiser, who invested $400 million in Solyndra. Kaiser has said he played no part in helping Solyndra win the 2009 loan, but emails released earlier this month show that he discussed Solyndra with the White House on at least one occasion. Kaiser also directed business associates on how to approach the White House and the Energy Department to help Solyndra deal with its financial problems.

Chu denied that anyone in the White House ever contacted him to make a political decision on the loan and said cheap imports from China, the collapse of the European market for solar panels, and other market changes led prices for Solyndra's product to fall.

While prospects for a takeover of Solyndra's operations appear dim, officials said an auction of the company's noncore assets, such as office equipment, went better than expected.

 

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