WASHINGTON – As part of its clean energy program, the Biden administration is relaunching a Department of Energy program that has provided billions of dollars in loan guarantees to companies such as electric car maker Tesla and the bankrupt solar company Solyndra, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said.
The loan program helped launch the country’s first large-scale wind and solar farms as part of the Obama administration’s efforts to create “green jobs,” but has largely remained dormant under President Donald Trump .
The program boosted Tesla’s efforts to become an electric car giant, but it stumbled with a large loan guarantee to Solyndra, the California solar company that went bankrupt shortly after receiving federal money there. is ten years old, costing taxpayers more than $ 500 million.
Republicans and other critics cite Solyndra as an example of unnecessary spending on President Barack Obama’s stimulus package, and loan guarantees have largely dried up in recent years. The Department of Energy provided $ 12 billion in guarantees for the Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia, but few other loans were offered under Trump.
That’s about to change – in a big way, says Granholm.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Granholm said that up to $ 40 billion in guarantees will be made available for a variety of clean energy projects, including wind, solar and hydro, advanced vehicles, geothermal energy and even nuclear energy.
“It has to be clean. That’s all,” she said. “And when I say clean, you know, these are technologies that are researched in the lab,” like projects to capture and store emissions of carbon dioxide, so-called green hydrogen and other sources of carbon. energy, she said.
The program will be overseen by Jigar Shah, a longtime clean energy entrepreneur who helped launch solar power in the United States.
While Republicans will likely focus on avoiding a repeat of Solyndra, Granholm, a former Michigan governor, said Tesla was a better example. Company founder Elon Musk repaid the loan several years ahead of schedule and Tesla is now one of the world’s leading manufacturers of electric cars and battery storage.
“I mean, obviously that was two administrations ago,” she said, referring to Solyndra, which went bankrupt in 2011. “We’ve learned a lot since then. People understand that when you invest in new technology, you’re going to have some that don’t succeed. ”
Yet the loan program as a whole has brought in more than $ 500 million to taxpayers, “with people paying off their loans with interest,” Granholm said.
Granholm called herself a “big fan” of Shah, who co-hosts an energy podcast and advises investors on low-carbon projects. “I am very excited about his leadership and using the DOE loan program again,” she said.
The program “has been a bit dying over the past few years,” she said Wednesday, but it’s “an incredible tool.” , for example with Tesla in the past, and we know he can be incredibly successful in the future with a few changes. “
On other matters, Granholm said she believes electric utilities can meet President Joe Biden’s goal of 100% clean electricity by 2035. The head of a lobbying group for Utilities said last month that the 2035 date would be “an incredibly difficult situation to handle” for most US electricity providers.
Reaching 80% or 90% clean electricity is “doable,” she said. “And the last piece is going to be more difficult, but we have to do it.” The good news is that companies have time to transition and improve the technology needed to produce clean energy on a larger scale, she said.
Granholm also promised that the energy department would be part of Biden’s commitment to environmental justice. Shalanda Baker, deputy director of energy justice and equity advisor at Granholm, will lead the effort, targeting underprivileged communities who have lost their jobs in coal mines or power plants or are located near refineries, incinerators or other hazards.
Biden has pledged that 40% of the profits from clean energy investments will go to underprivileged communities, “so that they are not forgotten, not invisible,” Granholm said.
Granholm, who took office on February 25 after being confirmed by the Senate, said her first week on the job “was an incredible learning experience and under fire.”
Like previous Energy Secretaries, Granholm said she was impressed with the breadth and scope of the agency, as well as the complex research and large number of scientists with PhDs in the 17 national laboratories of the department. The Department of Energy monitors, among other things, the country’s nuclear stocks.
“It really is an amazing organization, and I look forward to learning more every day,” said Granholm. “I can’t wait to see the fruits of all this research put into the field.”
Granholm said she plans to visit “each” of the 17 laboratories, which stretch from New York to California and will conduct cutting-edge research on a range of scientific and nuclear issues. Granholm and scientists from several national laboratories will hold an event Thursday to discuss research on COVID-19, including how the disease spreads, the structure of the virus and the effective design of the vaccine as the Biden administration continues to roll out three federally approved vaccines.
The labs are also studying COVID-19 variants and technologies that may protect against future pandemics.