A heavily subsidized solar company received a U.S. taxpayer loan guarantee to sell solar panels to itself.
First Solar is the company. The subsidy came from the Export-Import Bank, which President Obama and Harry Reid are currently fighting to extend and expand. The underlying issue is how Obama’s insistence on green-energy subsidies and export subsidies manifests itself as rank corporate welfare.
Here’s the road of subsidies these solar panels followed from Perrysburg, Ohio, to St. Clair, Ontario.
First Solar is an Arizona-based manufacturer of solar panels. In 2010, the Obama administration awarded the company $16.3 million to expand its factory in Ohio — a subsidy Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland touted in his failed re-election bid that year.
Five weeks before the 2010 election, Strickland announced more than a million dollars in job training grants to First Solar. The Ohio Department of Development also lent First Solar $5 million, and the state’s Air Quality Development Authority gave the company an additional $10 million loan.
After First Solar pocketed this $17.3 million in government grants and $15 million in government loans, Ex-Im entered the scene.
In September 2011, Ex-Im approved $455.7 million in loan guarantees to subsidize the sale of solar panels to two solar farms in Canada. That means if the solar farm ever defaults, the taxpayers pick up the tab, ensuring First Solar gets paid.
But the buyer, in this case, was First Solar.
A small corporation called St. Clair Solar owned the solar farm and was the Canadian company buying First Solar’s panels. But St. Clair Solar was a wholly owned subsidiary of First Solar. So, basically, First Solar was shipping its own solar panels from Ohio to a solar farm it owned in Canada, and the U.S. taxpayers were subsidizing this “export.”
First Solar spokesman Alan Bernheimer defended this maneuver, saying this really was an export, pointing out that First Solar paid sales taxes on the transaction.
But this subsidy undermines the arguments for Ex-Im’s existence. Ex-Im, whose authorization expires May 31, is supposed to be a job creator, helping U.S. manufacturers beat foreign manufacturers by having U.S. taxpayers backstop the financing.
“It is critical that we encourage more American companies to compete in the global marketplace,” Ex-Im Chairman Fred Hochberg said about the First Solar deal, saying the subsidy “will boost Ohio’s economy, create hundreds of local jobs and move us closer to President Obama’s goal of doubling U.S. exports by the end of 2014.”
The implication here is that First Solar was “competing” with foreign solar panel makers in order to sell solar panels — to First Solar.
Ah, yes, the old Government shell game at its finest. Nothing like using taxpayer money to buy products from yourself.