During an investigation into the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released emails in 2012 showing communications between Department of Energy officials and executives at BrightSource in 2010.
As Oversight noted in an Oct. 2012 memo, BrightSource chairman of the board John Wooland sent an email to then-White House chief of staff Bill Daley requesting his help in speeding up an environmental analysis being conducted by the Department of Interior. Wooland, who was later appointed to lead the Department of Commerce, wrote that the project faced “significant risk” because of the delayed analysis and asked Daley to lean on Interior Sec. Ken Salazar to speed up the process.
Two weeks after those emails, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, part of the Department of Interior, issued a revised Biological Opinion which allowed the project to proceed.
The emails also revealed that Jonathan Silver, the executive director of the Department of Energy’s loan program, met with Woolard at his Washington D.C. home for dinner in Nov. 2010, months before the $1.6 billion loan guarantee agreement had been finalized.
According to a March 2012 Oversight report, which looked at how the Department of Energy managed its loan guarantee program, the Ivanpah project’s recovery estimate was the lowest – 55 percent – out of all of the loan guarantees the Committee reviewed.
Oversight, and other outside observers, have flagged the Obama administration’s possible conflicts of interest in the Ivanpah project.
Sanjay Wagle, who ran the group Clean Tech for Obama, which backed Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign, was appointed to the position of renewable energy adviser at the Department of Energy after the election.
Wagles’s Vantage Point Venture Partners invested in clean-tech companies that were given $2.4 billion in federal loan guarantees, the Washington Post reported in 2011. One of Vantage Point’s investments was BrightSource.
Financial struggles are not Ivanpah’s only problem. (RELATED: Google-Owned Solar Plant Ivanpah Incinerates At Least 1,000 Birds Per Year)
Environmentalists have criticized the plant for causing the death of between 1,000 and 28,000 birds per year. The birds apparently mistake the Ivanpah’s large field of mirrors for water. When they fly towards it, the birds are fried as they near the mirrors, which generate heat of up to 800 degrees Fahrenheit. (RELATED: Government Report Confirms That Southwest Solar Plant Blinds Airline Pilots)
Airplane pilots have also complained about the plant. A government study found that the mirrors can temporarily blind pilots flying near the facility.