Industry Market Trends

Robert Kennedy, Jr.-Connected Green Energy Company Rakes In $1.4 Billion from Obama Administration

Nov 25, 2011

You can't say Robert Kennedy, Jr. isn't prescient.

In August 2008 he wrote a guest article for CNN, predicting that, if elected, Sen. Barack Obama's energy plan "would create [a] green gold rush." Of course by then it was fairly obvious that Sen. Obama would, in fact, win the election.

Sen. Obama became President Obama, and true to Kennedy's prediction, a green gold rush ensued -- rushing over a billion dollars of American taxpayer money into a business venture backed by Mr. Kennedy himself. It's nice to be right.

Happy Days For Democrat Donors.Hey, these days, when it comes to getting your green energy venture funded by the American taxpayer, it pays to be a Democrat -- or even better, a Democrat fundraiser for President Obama. Evidently the way to get a billion dollars for a green energy concern is to give Barack Obama a few hundred thousand, sit back and wait for him to shower you with taxpayer money.

As investigative journalist Peter Schweizer reports in his new book, Throw Them All Out, 80 percent of all $20.5 billion in Department of Energy loans went to President Obama's top donors, including such megarich one percenter Democrats as Google owners Larry Page and Sergey Brinn, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Ted Turner, John Doerr, and Al Gore.

Oh heavens no, we're not implying any connection between being a Democrat fundraiser and getting taxpayer money from a Democrat president you raised money for. After all, President Obama himself said "Let me repeat that: Decisions about how Recovery money will be spent will be based on the merits. They will not be made as a way of doing favors for lobbyists," so we're sure it's just an unseemly coincidence.

But honestly. Solyndra, connected to Obama fundraiser and bundler George Kaiser, was bad enough. There are plenty of other green energy scams and scandals, not that the dinosaur media's knocking themselves out uncovering them for you. Fortunately we're keeping you informed on just what's going where in the name of government "green investment."

And it would appears the Obama administration is acting fully in character with the recent revelations about BrightSource. Granted, BrightSource is a bit sexier newswise, what with Robert Kennedy Jr., nephew of President John F. Kennedy and, with the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy the current Kennedy clan scion, as well as cutting-edge solar technology and a good, old-fashioned billion-dollar Democrat Party intrigue.

Take SunPower -- Please.It's not like the Democrats are shy about it. Take SunPower --  please. The company received a $1.2 billion loan guarantee from the Obama Administration in September to help build the California Valley Solar Ranch in San Luis Obispo County under the rationale that it was "helping create green jobs." A total of 15 permanent jobs would have been located at the facility after a couple hundred construction jobs were over, with more jobs created at the company's Mexico plant.

Do the math on that one. We'll wait. Right -- an appallingly stupid waste of money. So how did they qualify for the Obama administration to give them your tax dollars?

Democrat Rep. George Miller's son, George Miller IV, is SunPower's top lobbyist, and he was paid $178,000 to lobby on behalf of the company (cf. Obama quote re lobbyists above). The elder Miller is a powerful California Democrat. SunPower PAC filings show that for the 2010 midterm election campaign cycle, it donated $14,650 to Democrats and $1,000 to Republicans.

But surely the company was already doing well, and just needed the American taxpayer to finance its push over the top? Uh-uh. The company posted $150 million in losses during the first half of 2011. Its debt is nearly 80 percent of its market value and the company is facing class action lawsuits for misstating its earnings.

In fact, the company's such a hopeless basket case SunPower officials admitted in its SEC filings that it is very dependent on government, and that a big slug of its revenues depends on a limited number of customers.

And there's Solyndra, which appears to be the one Obama administration scandal the media might be willing to admit exists. We won't recap the depressing details here.

So, What's BrightSource's Bright Idea, Again?Let's see what happened with BrightSource, a company whose largest shareholder is Kennedy's VantagePoint Partners.

The company received a $1.4 billion bailout through a loan guarantee issued by a former employee-turned Department of Energy official, according to a good roundup on BlogCritics citing reporting by investigative journalist Peter Schweizer's book, Throw Them All Out.

How did the company get that much public money for their own private good? Sanjay Wagle was a principal in Mr. Kennedy's firm.  He raised money for Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. President Obama then gave him a position at the Department of Energy, advising the administration on energy grants. We imagine Kennedy quietly raising a glass of Champagne at the news.

BrightSource Energy itself is an Oakland-based company founded in 2008 to design, build, finance and operate utility-scale solar power plants. Greentech Media ranked BrightSource as one of the top 10 greentech startups in the world in 2008.

"Only BrightSource has the PowerTower, and that made all the difference," Greentech Media said at the time, noting that "the company's DPT 550 system uses flat mirrors to focus thermal energy on distributed, water-filled towers, creating steam to drive a turbine. BrightSource mirrors track the sun in two dimensions, focusing energy directly onto the PowerTowers, while the choice of water over heating oil improves conversion efficiency."

Playing With The Varsity And Creating Jobs, Right?Sounds good, we must admit. And come now, we can hear you Democrat apologists say, it's not like BrightSource wouldn't have qualified on the merits alone under any president. Surely they had a good proposal and sound financials, right? After all, Pacific Gas & Electric signed a deal with BrightSource for a potential 900 MW system at a price of $2 billion to $3 billion, the biggest deal in the history of solar energy. That's playing with the varsity, this isn't a bunch of no-hopers.

And they'll create jobs. Surely you're not opposed to jobs, we hear you say?

We'll take the jobs claim first. Yes, BrightSource claimed their construction project would be a green jobs creator. But the company's own Web site admits that it will create 1,400 temporary construction jobs at best, and only its peak construction, and at best only 650 jobs thereafter.

Again, we'll wait while you do the math there. Be generous -- assume the 1,400 number. That's still about $1 million per job. And since they're certainly not paying their construction workers $1 million each, it might be interesting to ask Mr. Kennedy where the rest of the money's going.

And as to the company's financial stability, well, too bad it hasn't worked out exactly as planned. According to Schweizer, in 2010, BrightSource, "was up to its eyes in $1.8 billion of debt obligations and had lost $71.6 million on its paltry $13.5 million of revenue."

BlogCritics points out that BrightSource itself advertises the Coalinga project, a company demonstration facility, noting that Coalinga was intended to be a proving ground. A proving ground is a proving ground, it's not expected to be the flagship product, okay, and company officials estimated losses of $10.5 million.

But, the site says, "as of June 30, 2011, BrightSource says its loss has been $58.6 million, 'or $48.1 million greater than the initial loss estimate as recognized in December 2008'."

Ivanpah Or Bust -- Sorry, Desert Tortoise.The company's hopes rest entirely on a project known as the Ivanpah Solar Electrical System, which on paper is going to be the largest solar plant in the world. It's already located on federal lands in California, so it's starting with a leg up there, again courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer.

According to industry observer Jon James, if completed, it would be "the first large-scale -- more than 100 megawatts -- solar thermal project in the U.S. in more than 20 years."

James explains that the idea is for the PowerTower to use mirrors to focus the sun's rays on its large water-filled boiler at the top of a 459-foot tall tower, adding that "construction costs are expected to total $2.18 billion." Things aren't clipping along as swimmingly as the company would like, however. The company is "facing numerous lawsuits filed by environmental groups and Native Americans as biologists have discovered the site is home to the desert tortoise and cultural artifacts," as James notes.

The desert tortoise. This generation's snail darter.

Would We Do It? Depends.Perhaps the even more damning indictment, however, is the Securities and Exchange Commission filing from BrightSource itself, which admits that "Our future success depends on our ability to construct Ivanpah, our first utility-scale solar thermal power project, in a cost-effective and timely manner... Our ability to complete Ivanpah and the planning, development and construction of all three phases are subject to significant risk and uncertainty."

We don't know about you, but we don't think "significant risk and uncertainty" in all phases of an operation sounds like the kind of thing we'd sink a billion dollars into. Well, unless it was run by a friend of ours who raised a certain threshold of money for our last campaign, and the money we're giving him isn't really our money anyway, but belongs to somebody else.

Then yeah, we'd probably do it.