Government officials blame unfair competition from China for the collapse of solar panel manufacturer Solyndra, but such concerns didn’t stop the federal government from breaking stimulus program rules to use Chinese solar panels atop a federal building housing the offices of a senator, congressman and several agencies.
Even the contractor questioned whether Chinese-made panels could be used under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the stimulus program that mandated use of U.S.-made products. His query in early 2010 was dismissed and the General Services Administration moved forward with using the Chinese panels on the Sen. Paul Simon Federal Building in Carbondale, Ill., records show.
Questions about the panels, which were assembled overseas, were raised in a four-page advisory memo sent by the inspector general to the GSA in the summer of 2011, but the findings take on added significance as government officials increasingly place blame on Chinese subsidies for troubles in the U.S. solar market.
Since last summer, Solyndra LLC and another solar company, Abound Solar, have filed for bankruptcy despite receiving generous federal loan guarantees. After both bankruptcies, government officials were quick to place blame on subsidies from China that allowed foreign solar panel manufactures to sell their products below cost, squeezing U.S. solar companies.
Meanwhile, the contractor on the Illinois building project, J.R. Conkey & Associates, initially questioned GSA officials on whether solar panels assembled in China could be used under the stimulus program, but a procurement officer told the company to proceed, according to records.
“We did what we were told to do by the federal government,” Jim Conkey, the company’s president, said Monday.
According to the inspector general’s memo, Conkey officials asked the GSA contracting official “whether non-ARRA [Recovery Act] compliant solar panels could be used” on Feb. 16, 2010, before the installation of the panels.
“The contracting officer directed Conkey to ‘proceed with the panels specified in the schedule contract since they have already been determined as satisfying all applicable contract clauses including the ARRA Buy American Act requirement,’ ” the memo stated.