Context is Everything; The Associated Press Should Know That

Reuven Proença 

Director, Global Brand, Corporate and Marketing Communications

As a former journalist with nothing but respect for and a deeply personal commitment to journalistic freedom, I fully appreciate that reporters will sometimes write stories we will not like, as long as the reporting is fair, factual, and balanced. In the five years I have led First Solar's communications team, the Associated Press (AP) story published earlier today was the first from a reputable news organization to cause me to respond publicly.

Put bluntly, the AP article, "A signature Biden law aimed to boost renewable energy. It also helped a solar company reap billions," fails to provide the balance and context that any reader has the right to expect from the Associated Press. This venerable organization usually sets the standard for newsgathering and reporting.

For reasons that are not immediately clear, AP focused exclusively on First Solar within the context of policy deliberations on the Inflation Reduction Act, a massive piece of legislation that was months in the making. Even if one wants to argue that First Solar's interactions illustrate the larger policymaking that occurred, AP nonetheless failed to provide important context for First Solar's activities.

Here are five of the most significant issues with AP's report:

  1. The article refers to "Executives, officials, and major investors in First Solar" donating "at least $2 million to Democrats in 2020, including $1.5 million to Biden's successful bid for the White House."

    The Facts: The reality is that First Solar's PAC made $146,300 in bipartisan political contributions in 2020, which included a contribution of $1,913 to the Biden-Harris campaign. As I pointed out to the AP reporter in a phone call and via email, personal political contributions made by employees, including First Solar executives, reflect their own beliefs and not those of First Solar, and our investors do not make campaign contributions on the company's behalf, nor does the company influence our investors' political decisions in any manner. A balanced, unbiased report would have included this crucial piece of information.

    The AP article references a few investors, including Lukas T. Walton, implying that their donations led to financial gain. Notably, Mr. Walton began exiting the stock in September 2020 when he either sold or donated to charity approximately 80% of his holdings, a not insignificant detail. Furthermore, AP's readers could also have benefitted from insights into the other investors' track records in campaign donations, which may well have shown a history of donating to a particular party or cause, regardless of their investments.

    Moreover, the article spends much space on Jim Simons and Renaissance Technologies. Based on public filings, Renaissance Technologies was in and out of First Solar stock between 2020 and 2023. However, they did not build the material position the article references until the period from October 1 to December 31, 2022, which was after the IRA was announced and signed into law.

  2. The article states that after President Biden won the election, "First Solar spent $2.8 million more lobbying his administration and Congress, records show — an effort that included high-level meetings with top administration officials."

    The Facts: Like most public companies, we engage in the political process in our key markets. This includes bipartisan contributions to political candidates, organizations, and initiatives supporting public policy and sustainable market growth for First Solar's business. According to data on, First Solar's spending between 2021 and 2024 was below that of other major companies and organizations.

  3. The article claims that First Solar's advocacy "strategy was a dramatic departure from the Arizona-based company's posture under then-President Donald Trump, whom corporate officials publicly called out as hostile toward renewable energy."

    The Facts: Firstly, according to data on, First Solar has spent an average of $564,000 per year on advocacy between 2021 and 2024, compared to an average of $406,000 per year from 2017 to 2020. This is hardly a "dramatic departure" when you consider that the years since President Biden's election have seen the most consequential piece of industrial policy of our generation and an uptick in trade activity as the US seeks to respond to China's use of systemic overcapacity and anti-competitive trade practices to undermine American interests.  

    Secondly, First Solar has a track record of speaking out on issues concerning the industry in clear, non-partisan terms. Our support and our criticism of Administrations is bipartisan. During President Trump's term, we expressed support for the Section 201 tariffs implemented in 2018, which catalyzed the investment in our second Ohio facility. During the Biden presidency, we praised policies that benefited our industry, as we did with the IRA, while publicly voicing our concern about those that undermined it.

  4. The article notes, "When the Biden administration started writing rules to implement the Democrats' new law, First Solar executives and lobbyists met at least four times in late 2022 and 2023 with administration officials, including John Podesta, who oversaw the measure's environmental provisions."

    The Facts: As America's oldest operating solar company and its largest solar manufacturer, First Solar's experience and insights are valued in Washington. In seeking to execute a major industrial policy, it would be desirable for any administration to speak with leaders from across the industry, and we understand the White House has kept an open door with a wide swath of renewable energy stakeholders. This helps ensure that policies are grounded in reality and not shaped in a vacuum. Crucially, as White House visitor logs show, we were not the only industry stakeholders to meet with the administration.

  5. The article indicates that the Obama administration "subsidized their industry — and First Solar — through billions of dollars in government-backed loans."

    The Facts: As I pointed out to the reporter, First Solar never received loan guarantees directly from the US Department of Energy in 2011: there were three solar projects in the same timeframe that were developed by First Solar and sold to third parties – those parties are the ones who received DOE loan guarantees. It's factually inaccurate to say that First Solar was subsidized through government-backed loans.

These were only some of the issues with the article, whose tenuous argument is almost entirely based on loosely strung-together circumstances. Despite being given only 24 hours to respond, we offered the reporter a great deal of context and insight into the solar industry's broader trend of political spending. It was disappointing to see that much of that context, arguably crucial to readers, was ignored. But then, how do you continue to prop up a story that holds little water, given that First Solar's engagement in the political process is not unique among public companies?

As I reiterated to the reporter, we have nothing to hide and are transparent in our activities. It certainly isn't too much to expect fair and balanced reporting.


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