When China’s largest solar companies faced costly U.S. tariffs, they turned to industry veteran Jigar Shah to lobby on their behalf. Now, President Joe Biden is handing that same man hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to invest in green energy companies, prompting concern that the money could benefit Beijing.
Shah in late 2011 partnered with three Chinese solar giants to form the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy, a nonprofit that mounted an aggressive campaign to kill U.S. tariffs on Chinese solar panels. As the group’s president, Shah said evidence that his Chinese clients accepted illegal subsidies from Beijing was merely part of an “anti-China crusade.” He also argued that American consumers could not afford solar panels without cheap Chinese goods, stressing the need for the two nations to “work together to solve our planet’s energy and environmental crisis.”
Years later, China could again stand to benefit from Shah’s work. Biden Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm in March 2021 tapped Shah to run the department’s Loan Programs Office, which is expected to flood the China-dominated green energy industry with billions of taxpayer dollars in the coming months. Shah’s leading role in distributing that money—and the Biden administration’s history of supporting Beijing-backed companies—have China hawks concerned that Biden’s push to usher in a “clean energy economy” will ultimately benefit America’s top adversary.
Former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, for example, highlighted one loan application Shah’s office is considering from Lithium Americas. The Canadian company—which plans to mine tens of thousands of tons of lithium from a site in northern Nevada—counts a Chinese mineral giant with ties to the Chinese Communist Party as its largest shareholder, the Washington Free Beacon reported in September. Still, at an industry conference three months later, Lithium Americas expressed confidence that it will secure a loan from Shah’s office to fund the mine, according to a conference attendee. For Pompeo, that possibility is a troubling one.
“It should concern all Americans that a Biden administration political appointee at the Department of Energy once had deep ties to CCP-backed firms,” Pompeo told the Free Beacon. “It’s no secret that the CCP wants to control America’s domestic rare earth mineral supply, and now the Biden administration might just give it to them along with American tax dollars. This is a serious threat to our national security.”
An Energy Department spokesperson said Shah is “working to deliver on President Biden’s goal to build clean energy technologies at commercial scale in the United States, restore supply chains, and strengthen domestic manufacturing.” The spokesperson did not return detailed questions on Shah’s time as Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy president.
As Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy president, Shah minimized the group’s work with Chinese solar companies. The coalition’s website, which is no longer live, claimed that the group represented “the largest companies in the U.S. solar industry” and worked to protect “the affordability of solar energy and the American workforce.” As part of that domestic-focused messaging, Shah’s group opted to name the U.S. subsidiaries of its three Chinese partners on its online member list, rather than naming the companies’ Chinese parents.
But those three companies—Wuxi-based Suntech Power, Changzhou-based Trina Solar, and Baoding-based Yingli—have close relationships with China’s government. The companies relied on “direct government support” to fund their operations, Reuters reported in 2013, and Suntech founder Shi Zhengrong in a 2010 speech credited two senior CCP officials with the company’s rise. “Suntech,” Shi said one year later, “is a seed sown by the Communist Party of the Wuxi government.” It’s unclear how much money Shah’s Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy took from the three Chinese companies.
Shah’s bid to sink the tariffs was ultimately unsuccessful—then-president Barack Obama’s Commerce Department announced them in early 2012, though at a lower level than expected. Still, Shah’s Chinese partners would go on to fight with federal regulators for years. In December 2022, for example, Biden’s Commerce Department found that Trina Solar illegally circumvented U.S. trade laws and failed to show its independence from the CCP. U.S. Customs and Border Protection in June also seized shipments of Trina Solar equipment over concerns that the equipment was made with slave labor, according to Reuters.
Shah is now attempting to revive the Energy Department’s Loan Programs Office, which was largely dormant under former president Donald Trump after the Obama administration faced criticism over failed loans to green energy companies that went bankrupt. When Shah joined the office in 2021, it had roughly $44 billion in its coffers. Biden’s so-called Inflation Reduction Act, however, gave the office hundreds of billions of dollars, meaning Shah now has nearly $400 billion at his disposal. Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.), who is set to serve on a new House select committee meant to counter the CCP, told the Free Beacon he expects “many” of those billions to go to “communist China.”
“Chairman Xi couldn’t have written a more pro-China tax and spend bill,” Banks said of the Inflation Reduction Act. “The Biden administration will always put our Chinese competitors ahead of American workers.”
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