Obama on Solyndra: 'This Was Not Our Program Per Se'

Paul Chinn-Pool/Getty Images

At the nation's largest solar energy plant Wednesday, President Obama doubled down on his commitment to government subsidies for clean energy technology and green jobs - and deflected blame for instances when those investments have failed.

"Are you doing your 'all-of-the-above' strategy right if that's what we have to show for it - Solyndra?" asked Kai Ryssdal, host of "Marketplace" on American Public Media, in an interview with Obama.

The solar energy start-up Solyndra, which had been the poster child of Obama's initiative, went bankrupt in 2011, putting 1,000 employees out of work. It had received more than $500 million in federal loan guarantees through a Recovery Act program. The loan process is now the subject of a congressional investigation.

"Obviously, we wish Solyndra hadn't gone bankrupt," Obama said. "But understand: This was not our program per se."

"Congress - Democrats and Republicans - put together a loan guarantee program because they understood historically that when you get new industries, it's easy to raise money for start-ups, but if you want to take them to scale, oftentimes there's a lot of risk involved, and what the loan guarantee program was designed to do was to help start up companies get to scale," he said.

Obama rightly notes that Congress created with bipartisan support an Energy Department loan guarantee program for clean energy start-ups in 2005, during the George W. Bush administration.

However, he incorrectly suggests Solyndra received its financing from that 2005 appropriation of funds.  Instead, the company's $500 million in fast-tracked loan guarantees came from a new section of the program created by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the stimulus. The Recovery Act did not receive any GOP votes.

During a May 2010 visit to Solyndra, Obama explicitly credited the Recovery Act with supporting the company's early success.

"Less than a year ago, we were standing on what was an empty lot," Obama said at the time. "But through the Recovery Act, this company received a loan to expand its operations.  This new factory is the result of those loans."

Obama has since lamented the fact that those loans failed and explained that losses were never unexpected in the pursuit of new technologies.

"Obviously it's heartbreaking what happened to the workers who were there," Obama told "Marketplace." "When you look at the overall portfolio, is it right for us to make sure that we're not just cashing in our chips and letting the Chinese or the Germans develop the technologies that we know are going to be critical in the future? I'm proud to say that we're going to continue to support it."

This post has been updated.