A viral story revives a falsehood about Nancy Pelosi’s brother-in-law and a federal loan guarantee for a Nevada solar plant.
Using the proposed Green New Deal as a hook, Neon Nettle — a website known for peddling false and misleading content — has dredged up an old story about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s brother-in-law and his tangential connection to a solar power plant that received a federal loan guarantee.
The Feb. 10 story was published under the headline, “Pelosi’s Brother-in-Law Received $737m Taxpayer Money for Failed ‘Green’ Project.” A subhead claims that the “Obama Admin gave ‘loan’ for ‘green’ energy project to Nancy Pelosi’s husband’s brother.”
Those assertions are false.
As we wrote in 2011, the $737 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy was not provided to Ron Pelosi (which the story later names) but to a subsidiary of SolarReserve, for the Crescent Dunes solar facility in Tonopah, Nevada — a project that supported 600 construction jobs and created 45 permanent jobs, according to the department.
What’s more, taxpayers didn’t loan the company $737 million.
The company received a loan guarantee, which the Energy Department defines as an agreement “between the government, private creditors and a borrower — such as banks and other commercial loan institutions — that the Federal government will cover the borrower’s debt obligation in the event that the borrower defaults.” It is not an outright loan of taxpayer money; the government shares in the financial risk of projects “that employ new technologies that are not yet supported in the commercial marketplace or where private investment has been inhibited.”
The 2011 loan announcement prompted unsupported allegations that Ron Pelosi had something to do with the project’s approval. The connection was drawn because Ron Pelosi, at the time the loan was announced, was serving as an “independent director” on the board of PCG Asset Management — a subsidiary of Pacific Corporate Group, which had invested in SolarReserve. (He had previously been executive director of PCG Asset Management until April 2009, before the loan application was filed.)
Pelosi, as well as Pacific Corporate Group and SolarReserve representatives, denied the claims when they first surfaced.
Chalking the assertions up to a “smear” attempt against his sister-in-law, Ron Pelosi provided email correspondence to FactCheck.org at the time showing he was only to receive $25,000 annually for his role on the board. “The loan the company received had nothing to do with me,” he said in a statement, adding that he “knew nothing regarding their proposed or actual transactions.”
The recent Neon Nettle story — which netted more than 40,000 Facebook interactions, according to CrowdTangle data — goes onto make other claims, including that the plant has “failed” and that “its average monthly production was expected to exceed 40,000 MWh, as of October 2018 it only exceeded half of that value during 8 months.”
It’s not true that the plant “failed.” It has been in operation since 2015 and sells its energy to the electric provider NV Energy under a 25-year contract.
The plant was indeed projected to generate some 482,000 megawatt-hours annually — or about 40,000 megawatt-hours per month on average — which assumes the plant is operating at its full 110-megawatt capacity for about 12 hours every day. The most recent data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show that the plant averaged 17,056 megawatt-hours per month for the first 11 months of 2018.
Last year, company officials acknowledged that the plant’s early years of operation were beset with issues such as defective pumps and construction errors, according to a January 2018 story by InsideClimate News, a nonprofit news organization that covers energy and environmental issues. Kevin Smith, SolarReserve’s CEO at the time, told the news outlet that, while the plant had not yet reached its goal of generating almost 500,000 megawatt-hours of electricity annually, he was confident that the target would be met.
Either way, though, the claim that Ron Pelosi “received $737m” in “taxpayer money” simply runs counter to the facts.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on the social media network.
“About.” InsideClimate News. Accessed 13 Feb 2019.
Bloom, Dave and D’Angelo Gore. “Ron Pelosi’s Connection to Tonopah Solar Energy.” FactCheck.org. 8 Dec 2011.
“Crescent Dunes.” Loan Programs Office, U.S. Department of Energy. June 2017.
Dieterich, Robert. “24-Hour Solar Energy: Molten Salt Makes It Possible, and Prices Are Falling Fast.” InsideClimate News. 16 Jan 2018.
“Energy Department Finalizes $737 Million Loan Guarantee to Tonopah Solar Energy for Nevada Project.” Press release, U.S. Department of Energy. 28 Sep 2011.
“Net generation: Crescent Dunes Solar Energy.” Open Data, U.S. Energy Information Administration. Accessed 14 Feb 2019.
“What is a Loan Guarantee?” Loan Programs Office, U.S. Department of Energy. Accessed 15 Feb 2019.