Green Firms Get Fed Cash, Give Execs Bonuses, Fail


Green Energy: Bankruptcies and Bonuses

Not as well-known are three other firms backed by Energy Department dollars -- ranging from $500,000 to $118.5 million -- that also suffered financial downturns. As with Solyndra, each corporate entity rewarded executives prior to its bankruptcy filing.

One example: Ener1, whose subsidiary EnerDel won the $118.5 million Energy Department grant in 2009 to help expand its manufacturing plant. The company also received supportive write-ups on the DOE website.

Vice President Biden's January 2011 visit to the company's Greenfield, Indiana, plant was part of the government's "White House to Main Street Tour."

"This Administration is forging a new path forward by making sure America doesn't just lead in the 21st Century, but dominates in the 21st Century," Biden said after a tour with Ener1 CEO Gassenheimer. "We're not just creating new jobs -- but sparking whole new industries that will ensure our competitiveness for decades to come -- industries like electric vehicle manufacturing."

A White House report listed the EnerDel project as No. 67 among the "100 Recovery Projects that are Changing America."

In March 2011, Gassenheimer was awarded a $450,000 bonus, SEC records show. Two other Ener1 executives pocketed bonuses of $225,000 and $50,000 for a total payout of $725,000.

In January 2012, one year after Biden's visit, Ener1 filed for bankruptcy, citing $73.9 million in assets and $90.5 million in debts.

Energy officials noted that while the bonuses were paid to executives from Ener1, the government grant went to a subsidiary called EnerDel, which was not part of the bankruptcy case. But the two are closely related -- bankruptcy records show EnerDel now provides all of the employees for the parent company. And the distinction is new for the Energy Department -- a press release touting Biden's visit referred to the parent company Ener1 as the recipient of administration support, not EnerDel.

Gassenheimer, reached for an interview, said he could not comment. He is no longer with Ener1.

A company spokesman said the bonuses were paid through Ener1, the corporate holding company, not EnerDel. DOE said the subsidiary's project is on schedule, and an Ener1 spokesman said the battery company aims to get back on its feet through reorganization.

Beacon Power's bonuses were specifically linked to executives' progress in landing the company's $43 million Energy Department loan guarantee in 2009.

Securing the loan was among the measures used to establish how much executives would pocket in bonuses, company SEC filings show. "The DOE loan application was approved by the credit review board, making us the first public company and the second of 16 applicants to receive the commitment," the document notes.

President and Chief Executive Officer F. William Capp received a $133,256 cash bonus in March 2010. Two other company officials pocketed combined bonuses that month of $126,029.

In an interview, Capp said the company's pay structure was reasonable and that executives took pay cuts in a bid to help Beacon Power survive.

"The record is clear on that. The executives have not enriched themselves," Capp said. "We all agreed to take a 20 percent reduction in pay just to make the funds last longer in order to keep the team together. There's hardly been self-enrichment."

Last week regulators approved Beacon Power's sale to an equity firm that should help it repay $25 million of the $39 million Beacon had drawn down from the loan. The company, under new ownership, plans to continue operating the 20-megawatt flywheel energy storage plant in Stephentown, New York, a project the department said would "ensure the reliable delivery of renewable energy to the electricity grid." It hopes to build a second plant in Pennsylvania.

Capp blamed the bankruptcy on a variety of factors, including government fears about restructuring loans after Solyndra filed for bankruptcy. His firm, he said, got swept up in "Hurricane Solyndra."

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