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Dept. of Energy Reviving Loan Program  03/04 06:21

   

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- As part of its clean-energy agenda, the Biden 
administration is reviving an Energy Department program that disbursed billions 
of dollars in loan guarantees to companies such as electric car maker Tesla and 
the failed solar company Solyndra, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm says.

   The loan program helped launch the country's first utility-scale wind and 
solar farms as part of the Obama administration's efforts to create "green 
jobs'' but largely went dormant under President Donald Trump.

   The program boosted Tesla's efforts to become a behemoth in electric cars, 
but it stumbled with a major loan guarantee to Solyndra, the California solar 
company that failed soon after receiving federal money a decade ago, costing 
taxpayers more than $500 million.

   Republicans and other critics cite Solyndra as an example of wasteful 
spending under President Barack Obama's stimulus program, and the loan 
guarantees have largely dried up in recent years. The Energy Department 
provided $12 billion in guarantees for the Vogtle nuclear power station in 
Georgia, but few other loans were offered under Trump.

   That's about to change --- in a big way, Granholm says.

   In an interview with The Associated Press, Granholm said up to $40 billion 
in guarantees will be made available for a variety of clean-energy projects, 
including wind, solar and hydro power, advanced vehicles, geothermal and even 
nuclear.

   "It's got to be clean. That's it,'' she said. "And when I say clean, you 
know, it's technologies that are being researched in the lab,'' like projects 
to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions, so-called green hydrogen fuel 
and other energy sources, she said.

   The program will be overseen by Jigar Shah, a longtime clean-energy 
entrepreneur who helped pioneer solar power in the U.S.

   While Republicans are likely to focus on avoiding a repeat of Solyndra, 
Granholm, a former Michigan governor, said Tesla is a better example. The 
company's founder, Elon Musk, repaid the loan in full years ahead of schedule 
and Tesla is now one of the world's leading makers 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 technology that is new, you're going 
to have some that don't succeed.''

   Still, the loan program overall has returned more than $500 million to 
taxpayers, "people paying back their loans with interest,'' Granholm said.

   Granholm called herself a "huge fan" of Shah, who co-hosts an energy podcast 
and advises investors on low-carbon projects. "I'm very excited about his 
leadership and about actually using the DOE loan program again,'' she said.

   The program "was a bit moribund over the past few years," she said 
Wednesday, but it's "an amazing tool.'' While it has to be "streamlined" so 
it's easier for companies to apply, "we know it had amazing success, for 
example with Tesla in the past, and we know it can have amazing success in the 
future with some changes."

   On other topics, Granholm said she thinks electric utilities can reach 
President Joe Biden's goal of 100 percent clean electricity by 2035. The head 
of a utility lobbying group said last month that the 2035 date would be "an 
incredibly difficult situation to handle" for most U.S. electricity providers.

   Getting to 80% or 90% of clean electricity is "doable," she said. "And the 
last bit is going to be harder, but we have to do it." The good news is that 
companies have time to make the transition and improve the technology needed 
produce clean power at a larger scale, she said.

   Granholm also pledged that the Energy Department would be part of Biden's 
commitment to environmental justice. Shalanda Baker, deputy director for energy 
justice and Granholm's equity adviser, will lead the effort, targeting 
disadvantaged communities that have lost jobs in coal mines or power plants or 
are located near refineries, incinerators or other hazards.

   Biden has pledged that 40% of the benefits of clean-energy investments will 
go to disadvantaged communities, "so that they are not forgotten, not unseen,'' 
Granholm said.

   Granholm, who took office Feb. 25 after being confirmed by the Senate, said 
her first week on the job "has been an amazing, under-the-firehose learning 
experience.''

   Like previous energy secretaries, Granholm said she has been impressed by 
the agency's breadth and scope, as well as the intricate research and sheer 
number of scientists with doctoral degrees at the department's 17 national 
labs. The Energy Department oversees the nation's nuclear stockpile, among 
other responsibilities.

   "It's just really an amazing organization, and I can't wait to learn even 
more every day,'' Granholm said. "I look forward to seeing the fruits of all of 
that research be put into the field.''




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