One investor in the failed solar firm Solyndra pushed for White House support of the start-up in early 2009, as the company sought a half-billion-dollar Energy Department loan, documents show.
David Prend, a co-founder of the Boston venture capital firm Rockport Capital, met with Obama’s climate czar, Carol Browner, in late February to discuss administration policies to support clean energy companies, and Solyndra’s innovative solar panels were mentioned. He followed up by e-mailing a junior White House aide to “help get the word out” about the company’s desire to ramp up production and its pending partnership with the Obama administration. Prend’s Boston-based venture capital firm held 7.5 percent of the company’s equity.
Before Solyndra won the Energy Department’s preliminary approval for a $535 million loan, Prend and a lobbyist for a powerful trade group he helped lead suggested that the White House, and possibly President Obama, should showcase the company.
“I thought the White House might want to take advantage of this event to highlight a highly successful public/private partnership,” Prend wrote on March 13, 2009.
“Would the President be able to visit Solyndra,” Emily Baker, a lobbyist at the trade group wrote a few days later, after Prend copied her on his White House request. “Wow, that would be fantastic!”
Prend’s correspondence with the White House, released last week by a government source, shows that he suggested that the White House also could help the company meet the requirements for winning the Energy Department-guaranteed loan.
“Solyndra must still raise over $200 million in matching private equity according to the terms of the loan guarantee program,” Prend wrote on March 13 to Greg Nelson, a White House liaison for business leaders. “In the current economic environment, they could use all the positive publicity they can get.”
Energy Secretary Steven Chu ended up announcing the preliminary loan agreement, and the company raised the capital without Obama’s personal support.
The e-mails give a glimpse of both an investor’s welcome reception at the White House, and the multiple roles Prend had as he pushed for Solyndra. An administration official said a White House business liaison was properly interacting with a business investor seeking White House attention.
At the time he requested White House support, Prend wore a number of hats. He was co-founder of Rockport Capital, a clean-tech-focused firm that was a key, early investor in Solyndra, starting in 2007. He also served as chairman of a renewable energy panel that advised Obama’s Energy Department on solar technologies and investments.