Revealed: Department of Energy officials sat in on Solyndra meetings

It’s only fair. After all those visits Solyndra execs made to the White House, the least they could do was return the hospitality.

Remember that political scientist who’s predicted the winner of every presidential election since 1984 and who thinks Obama’s a lock this time? One of the “keys” in his “key system” is the lack of any major scandal during the incumbent’s term. Between this and Fast & Furious, I wonder how soon it’ll be before that key starts to turn in the lock.

Officials from the Department of Energy have for months been sitting in on board meetings as “observers” at Solyndra, getting an up-close view as the solar energy company careened towards bankruptcy after spending more than $500 million in federal loan money.

Word of the Energy Department’s unusual arrangement came as federal agents on Thursday converged on the California headquarters of the failed solar company, focusing fresh attention on the first corporate beneficiary of President Obama’s stimulus program to create new clean energy jobs…

Questions about the loan have been simmering for months. In 2009, the Energy Department put Solyndra’s application on a fast-track for approval, and announced the award with great fanfare. The generous terms of the government loan included the lowest interest of all the green projects benefitting from Energy Department help, iWatch News and ABC News found.

And as part of the deal, the Energy Department agreed that if the company went bust, private investors could recoup their losses before the government.

Remember, it was an open secret inside the industry that Solyndra was likely doomed because of its cost structure. As more Chinese solar plants came online, competitive pressure drove the average retail price per unit down to $1.50 or $2; according to one solar industry expert, it cost Solyndra $6 just to produce a unit. Another analyst told Cnet earlier this week, “In this case, questions have to be asked. The consensus view inside the solar industry is that Solyndra was not going to make it.” In fact, to make it even more interesting, here’s what an employee told the Mercury News. Disgruntled worker or after-the-fact whistleblower?

One former employee, Mohammed Walahi, who began working as a process technician for Solyndra in 2005, showed up at the company Thursday morning to file a workers’ compensation claim for a repetitive stress injury and was surprised to see FBI agents instead of security guards. Solyndra’s employees were laid off with no severance pay and an immediate end to health benefits, and Walahi, 41, has a wife and two young children to support.

He lashed out at his former employer, saying Solyndra manufactured solar panels that often contained imperfections that had to be thrown away.

“At least $100,000 a day was thrown away,” Walahi said. “If they are wasting $100,000 a day, how much is that a month or a year? Of course that’s going to lead to bankruptcy.”

And yet, and yet, not only did the White House have access to industry reports, they actually had a seat in Solyndra’s board room while the meltdown was in progress. Question one: How is it that, with the buzzards circling, Solyndra was still allowed to refinance its federal loan earlier this year to extend the term of repayment? And question two: If the White House knew firsthand that the company was in trouble, why’d they let the CEO waltz into Congress two months ago and reassure House members that everything was A-OK with the business?

Note well: It’s not just Republicans now who want answers.

“Less than two months ago, Mr. Harrison met with us and other Committee members to assure us that Solyndra was in a strong financial position and in no danger of failing,” Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) wrote to Republicans leading the investigation. “These assurances appear to contrast starkly with his company’s decision to file for bankruptcy last week.”

Those questions reveal a significant turn, as DeGette and Waxman were among members to vote against subpoenaing the White House budget office for records on the loan. Now, they are among those pressing questions – as the House has called Harrison to testify next week.

The FBI visited Harrison, the CEO, at his home yesterday while other agents were busy raiding the plant. They still haven’t said what they’re looking for or what the prospective charges might be but deliberately misleading Congress or the Energy Department about the financial health of the company have now moved to the top of the list of possibilities. Can’t wait for next week’s hearing. Stay tuned.