Another Solyndra?

BrightSource Energy, the California solar power plant builder, largely backed by President John F. Kennedy's nephew, Robert Kennedy Jr., was granted a 1.4 billion dollar bailout through a loan guarantee issued by a former employee-turned Department of Energy official. Yes, Sanjay Wagle was a principle in Kennedy's VantagePoint Partners - the major stake holder in BrightSource. Wagle was installed at the Department of Energy as an advisor on energy grants upon Obama's election to the White House.

The DOE granted BrightSource a $1.4 billion federal loan guarantee for their Ivanpah solar array facility. Who gets their money back should the venture fail remains a very valid question.

BrightSource Energy is currently building the first large-scale (more than 100 megawatts) solar thermal project in the U.S. in more than 20 years. The technology used to generate the power at their Ivanpah facility will utilize huge arrays of mirrors called heliostats to focus the sun's rays at a large water-filled boiler at the top of a 459-foot tall tower. The federal loan guarantee is financing the bulk of construction costs, expected to total $2,180 million, at the site on federal lands in the California desert.

The Ivanpah project, along with four other licensed solar projects to be built in the Mojave Desert, are facing numerous lawsuits filed by environmental groups and Native Americans as biologists have discovered the site is home to the desert tortoise and cultural artifacts.

In 2010, when the DOE granted the 7-figure bailout, BrightSource was admittedly already on shakey ground financially with $1.8 billion of debt. According to company filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, "Our future depends on our ability to construct Ivanpah, our first utility-scale solar thermal power project, in a cost-effective and timely manner. Our ability to complete Ivanpah and the planning, development and construction of all three phases are subject to significant risk and uncertainty."

It will be interesting to see if BrightSource becomes another black hole for taxpayer money from the Stimulus, or if we will see a positive return on our tax dollars. If we never hear of BrightSource again I guess we'll all know the answer to that question.

Numerous sources were used in this story. If you'd like to learn more visit Greentechmedia, Forbes magazine, or BigGovernment