Critics: New Energy Loan Program has Echoes of Solyndra Failure

Friday, 20 Sep 2013 01:33 PM

By Melanie Batley

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The Obama administration is looking to boost the development of new clean energy technologies by resurrecting a loan guarantee program that previously lost millions of taxpayer dollars through failed green energy start-ups like Solyndra, Inc.

According to The New York Times, the $8 billion program at the Energy Department will be used to help the coal and oil industries develop and adopt innovative energy technologies that would otherwise struggle to get backing from private investors who might find it too risky or expensive.

"We have a real problem, and that's, 'How do we get new technology to market?'" Peter Davidson, executive director of the loan program office at the Energy Department, told the Times.

"We partner with industry developers and entrepreneurs to demonstrate a new technology at industrial scale or utility scale, and hopefully once that technology is proven by deployment at scale, we step out of the way," and let the private debt markets take over, he said.

Critics, however, say the program, originally created in 2005, is a misuse of taxpayer money. As an example, they point to the 2011 failure of the solar module maker Solyndra, which defaulted on a $535 million government loan, prompting a congressional investigation.

Others say the program is unlikely to stimulate significant numbers of new technologies, nor ventures that might become economically viable on a mass scale.

"The [Department of Energy] loan guarantee program's history of mismanagement, bankruptcies and failure to deliver the jobs promised raises significant concerns about risking billions in additional taxpayer dollars," Charlotte Baker, a spokeswoman for the Republican-controlled House Committee on Energy and Commerce, told the Times.

"We are supportive of efforts to encourage the development of advanced fossil fuel technologies, but we are skeptical that federal loan guarantees are the best way," she said.

So far, the Energy Department has approved 17 loan guarantees for a number of solar, wind, and geothermal projects. It has also granted 15 conditional approvals that must be finalized by the end of September in order to qualify for the loan guarantees.



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