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Santa Rosa's connection to Solyndra

  • A solar array made by Solyndra has been installed on the roof of a Santa Rosa Wastewater Treatment Plant building.

Santa Rosa's newest solar array appears to have a lot going for it.

The panels are highly efficient, installation was a snap, and best of all it didn't cost city taxpayers anything.

There's just one problem: the 345 panels were made by a company with dirtiest name in the clean energy business — Solyndra.

The Fremont-based solar manufacturer is now bankrupt. Repayment of its $535 million federal loan is in doubt, an FBI investigation is underway and its state-of-the-art facility in the East Bay that once held promise as a generator of green manufacturing jobs is shuttered.

Santa Rosa officials say the selection of Solyndra's unique panels was made in January, well before the company's financial troubles became apparent. The company's technology was sound, its costs competitive and the panels well-suited for the white roof on which installation is nearly complete.

But the company's demise leaves the city wondering who will back the 25-year warranty for the panels. Solyndra promised refunds for products that fail to perform at 80 percent of their power rating.

"We are a little anxious about any performance warranty and who will be picking that up as they restructure under bankruptcy," said Dell Tredinnick, project development manager for the city's utilities department.

The array went up late last month on the roof of the administration building at the city's Laguna Treatment Plant. It is expected to go into service soon, after some interior wiring work is complete, said Colin Close, research and program coordinator for the city utilities department.

Unlike the other arrays at the treatment plant, which were funded through water and sewer rates, the Solyndra product was made possible through a $1.5 million Department of Energy grant bolstering energy efficiency and conservation projects. The money was part of the $840 billion federal stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

So, U.S. taxpayers were supporting Solyndra on both ends, subsidizing its operations through a federal loan guarantee, and aiding its sales with stimulus funds. Despite these subsidies, analysts have said the company couldn't compete as the recession and increasing overseas production created a glut of low-cost silicon solar panels.


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