U.S. Renewables Industry Wary of Gov’t Pledges to Restore ‘Borrowed’ Billions

After Congress pilfers another $1.5 billion from DOE loan program, fed-up industry groups express outrage and concern

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WASHINGTON—Forgive the renewable energy industry if it’s experiencing what baseball’s New York Yankees catching legend Yogi Berra famously labeled "déjà vu all over again."

First, Congress "borrowed" $2 billion from a renewable energy project loan guarantee fund to boost its "Cash for Clunkers" auto-rebate program last summer. And, this week, President Obama signed off on a jobs law that yanks another $1.5 billion from the loan guarantees funded via stimulus money.

Each time, Capitol Hill lawmakers have vowed to pony up new dollars. But because those in the renewables business are still waiting for the 2009 "Cash for Clunkers" money to be restored, they are understandably wary of the latest promise.

"They said the same thing last year," Jared Blanton, spokesman for the Washington-based Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) told SolveClimate News Wednesday. "It’s unclear what our next step will be but this is obviously a big concern for us."

On Tuesday, House representatives zipped in and out of the nation’s capital during their August recess to vote 247-161 to approve a $26 billion Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act (H.R. 1586) designed to help cash-strapped states pay for Medicaid assistance, teachers and other public employees. The Senate approved the state aid bill Aug. 5.

As part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Congress allotted $6 billion to the Department of Energy (DOE) to help businesses involved with renewable energy and electric grid transmission get their projects off the ground.

Companies are supposed to use the money to cover fees affiliated with DOE’s loan guarantees. Those fees can amount to 10 to 15 percent of the total project cost.

An Energy Department spokeswoman said Wednesday that while the department acknowledges that it is necessary to provide services to vulnerable citizens, it also recognizes the need for continued investments in clean energy.

"In the short term, we have the resources to support a broad portfolio of clean energy technologies, even as we work with Congress and the White House to secure additional funding to invest in a clean energy economy," DOE assistant press secretary Ebony Meeks wrote in an e-mail response.

Before the Senate passed the bill 61-39, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the DOE was spending the loan guarantee money so slowly that borrowing it for a targeted, short-term need — and then replenishing it later — shouldn’t pose a problem.

Those in the renewable energy business, however, don’t have quite the same outlook. They wrote letters to Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Obama that succinctly lay out their concerns with the fund depletion.

In a joint letter sent to Pelosi Aug. 9, leaders from the wind, geothermal, solar, biomass and hydropower trade associations explained that the initial stimulus funding of $6 billion would have been enough to provide loan guarantees for $60 billion in new projects. Slicing away all but $2.5 means that "an estimated private sector investment of $30 to $35 billion will be squandered," they explained.

Rhone Resch, SEI president and chief executive officer, sent a separate letter to President Obama on Aug. 9 reminding him about loan guarantees for two solar companies the White House touted in July. A 280-megawatt power plant in Arizona and manufacturing facilities in Colorado and Indiana are on track to create 5,000 jobs.

"The loss of these loan guarantee funds combined with the impending expiration of the Treasury Grant Program at the end of this year could send solar development into a tailspin that will be difficult to reverse," Resch wrote. "This would be tragic for our economy and environment, and completely counter to the administration’s policy goals for renewable energy and job creation."


Even Al Gore chimed in with an opinion about the raid on funding for renewables.

The former vice president noted that the House was preparing to vote the day before China unveiled a $739 billion energy proposal that calls for tying distributed generation such as wind, solar and biomass into a "smart" electric grid.

"These rescissions," Gore wrote, "put into jeopardy the green jobs that the administration (has) touted as part of our clean energy future, and put us further behind the rest of the world."

See also:

Congress Punts on Clean Energy Standards, Again

Study: National Renewables Mandate Could Help Make U.S. Competitive with China

U.S. Powers Up on Solar as Manufacturing and Installation Costs Fall

White House, Job Creation Keys to a Stronger Renewable Energy Standard

Solar Could Generate 15% of Power by 2020, If US Ends Fossil Fuel Subsidies