News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

Energy Department Loan Guarantees Going Ungranted

Far from spending it hand over fist, the DOE has been slow to deliver some promised cash to renewable energy firms | Photo: 401(K) 2012/Flickr/Creative Commons License

In an election season in which the Department of Energy's (DOE) loan guarantees to alternative energy companies have come under increasing fire, the pace at which the DOE is releasing funds for those guarantees has slowed, according to a report by Reuters. Nineteen projects getting DOE-backed loans from the Federal Financing Bank have received less than half the funds awarded them, and four have received none of the promised funding at all -- including San Jose-based Solopower.

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Some of the unmade payments are due to the companies themselves not meeting contractual milestones on which incremental payments from the Federal Financing Bank were contingent, but according to Ayesha Rascoe and Roberta Rampton at Reuters, some of the delays are likely due to Energy Department recalcitrance. DOE staffers have been subject to very close scrutiny over the loan program, with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform issuing subpoenas to DOE staff by way of armed Federal marshals.

The DOE refused to discuss financing status of seven projects in its portfolio, but the agency's figures for payments made as of August 31 show that about $5.5 billion in promised loans have not been delivered to the other 19. This includes portions of loans for projects as large as the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, which was still a couple hundred million short on its promise $1.6 billion DoE loan guarantee as of the end of August.

Reuters put together a chart of the 19 projects the DOE was willing to talk about, and two things jump out at the casual observer: one, that some of the largest awards are going more than half unmet, and two, that Solyndra's $535 million loan guarantee, as sizable as it is, wasn't even in the top five loans ranked by amount. In fact, the amount of money not yet awarded to the three largest loan guarantee recipients is more than double the total amount Solyndra received, and the largest recipient, NRG/BrightSource's Ivanpah SEGS, was awarded three times the loan guarantee that Solyndra received.

Of the 19 firms or projects discussed by DOE, six are sited or based in California: Ivanpah; photovoltaic installations at NRG's California Valley, Abengoa Mojave, and Exelon Antelope Valley Solar Ranch, and manufacturers Solyndra and SoloPower. Analyst Theodore O'Neill of Litchfield Hills Research told the Reuters reporters that SoloPower and one other solar cell producer are the "only faint hope of reaching viable commercial production because of stiff competition from China."

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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