In 2009, the Energy Department put Solyndra's application on a fast-track for approval, and announced the award with great fanfare. The generous terms of the government loan included the lowest interest of all the green projects benefitting from Energy Department help, iWatch News and ABC News found.
And as part of the deal, the Energy Department agreed that if the company went bust, private investors could recoup their losses before the government. Republicans in Congress called the investment "a bad bet" and said it "put taxpayers at unnecessary risk."
One of the lead private investors in Solyndra was an Oklahoma billionaire who served as an Obama "bundler," raising money during the 2008 presidential campaign.
The bundler, George Kaiser, has declined to comment. His firm, Argonaut Ventures and its affiliates have been the single largest shareholder of Solyndra, according to SEC filings and other records. The company holds 39 percent of Solyndra's parent company, bankruptcy records filed Tuesday show.
Energy officials have repeatedly denied allegations that Solyndra received special treatment, saying the selection process was even handed. Until two weeks ago, the Obama administration held out Solyndra as a model for its green energy program, which was devised to create jobs and spur investment in cleaner sources of energy. President Obama personally visited the Solyndra plant last year, and his Energy Department made it the first to win approval of a federal loan guarantee. The $535 million federal investment enabled the company to build a sprawling manufacturing facility.
Under terms of the bankruptcy filing, investors including Argonaut -- which led a $75 million round of financing for Solyndra earlier this year -- will stand in line before the federal government and other creditors to recoup losses. Energy officials confirmed this arrangement, saying that after private investors including Kaiser recover $75 million, the U.S. government would have a chance to seek $150 million of its investment. Private investors will not be made whole, however, and stand to lose almost a billion dollars.
Kaiser has declined interview requests for months from iWatch News and ABC News. Calls went unreturned again on Thursday. HisTulsa-based George Kaiser Family Foundation, which in 2009 cited a $342 million investment value in Solyndra, issued a statement after Solyndra's collapse, citing "serious challenges in the marketplace, especially the drastic decline in solar panel prices during the past two years caused in part by subsidies provided by the government of China to Chinese solar panel manufacturers."
Energy officials have said they viewed the Solyndra venture as a possible "game changer" in the green energy movement.
"Sophisticated, professional private investors, who put more than $1 billion of their own money behind Solyndra, came to the same conclusion as the Department: that Solyndra was an extremely promising company with innovative technology and a very good investment," a spokesman said this week.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story stated that the homes of Solyndra executives had been searched. Solyndra officials say that while agents visited homes of key executives, they did not search them.