Federico Pena, Obama surrogate, defends Abound Solar, federal loans

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Big photos below.
In Colorado, a state that will play an important role in today's presidential election, Barack Obama has battled negative press regarding Abound Solar, a Loveland solar-panel company that went bankrupt this summer despite federal support. It's become a talking point against the president, but Federico Peña, a top Obama surrogate in Colorado who also happens to be a former U.S. Secretary of Energy, calls the criticisms political noise.

The controversy around Abound Solar, which had received loan support from the Department of Energy, recently made headlines when 9News' Kyle Clark raised the issue in a satellite interview with Obama that ended up getting national attention. At the same time, a conservative website unearthed internal DOE documents they say prove that the White House's support of Abound was politically motivated, even though officials had warning signs that the technology could be unsuccessful.

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Photo by Brandon Marshall
Federico Pena, speaking at a Joe Biden rally in Arvada.
The White House and the Obama campaign have repeatedly dismissed these accusations, but the controversy around Abound continues to conservative claims of reckless spending and investments under Obama.

(For a more scientific and economic perspective, we recently spoke with a former National Renewable Energy Lab manager who worked closely with Abound. He defended the company and its government support, noting that there was no way officials could have predicted the difficult global market forces that led to the firm's bankruptcy).

At a Joe Biden rally in Arvada on Saturday, we raised the subject with Peña, the ex-mayor of Denver and a former U.S. Secretary of Energy under Bill Clinton who's currently an Obama campaign co-chair.

Peña, who has been campaigning for Obama in Colorado for months, said the DOE program that provides loans like the ones that went to Abound, is a solid one with a great record of successes.

"The loan guarantee program run by the Department of Energy was run by a gentleman who came out of the private equity world. He knows exactly what he's doing. So over 95 percent of the loans are good. They're gonna be successful. They're doing well," he said. "Some of them did not work. But that's the same thing we've seen with bank loans. That's the same thing we've seen with [Mitt Romney's former company] Bain Capital. That's what's going to happen when you have a program that's trying to encourage new innovation, new energy companies. They're gonna be a few that don't work, but the overwhelming majority have been great successes and nobody talks about that."

Peña, like many in the solar energy field, explained that competition globally has challenged these innovations.

"It's unfortunate, but again, we were dealing with China reductions and the economy," he said in the context of noting that Romney doesn't support the Wind Production Tax Credit and would let it expire, thereby presumably reducing the number of alternative energy jobs.

"The bottom line is this: The loan guarantee program of the DOE has been a great success. And our failure as a country has been, we have not invested in helping not only create new technology but commercializing new technology. And that's what the president is trying to do with this loan guarantee program," he said.

Continue for more from our interview with Federico Peña.

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