DOE Loan Program to Get Revamp Under Granholm’s Leadership


by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

Less than two weeks after being confirmed, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has announced that the Biden administration is resuming an Obama-era program that gave billions in loans to clean energy companies. Granholm, during talks at the CERAWeek energy conference on Wednesday, pointed the clean energy businesses the Department of Energy loan program had supported in the past, including the development of Tesla’s electric vehicles. To lead the new iteration of the program, Granholm has appointed clean energy entrepreneur Jigar Shah who she has confidence will ensure the program’s investments also pay off for taxpayers.

 

Why This Matters: The DOE loan program has been a crucial tool in helping finance clean energy projects that wouldn’t otherwise qualify for traditional loans but have the potential to drive innovation and reduce emissions. After four years of rotating doors and executive branch infighting, the addition of Granholm’s climate commitment creates a refreshing moment where departments are finally working in harmony toward similar goals.

How the Loans Work: The DOE loan program was created in 2005 under President George W. Bush but was expanded in the Obama era. It’s become a crucial tool for financing a wide array of promising energy projects. 

As NRDC explained, The first commercial (“at-scale”) projects for new technologies often face substantial barriers to obtaining loans and financing—potentially preventing new, innovative, and improved technologies from becoming widespread. 

  • This is also known as the “valley of death” between research and development (R&D) and commercial operation and success. 
  • The hurdles new technologies face can prevent innovative and improved technologies from even making it out of the labs. 
  • The Loan Guarantee Program, through Title XVII, helps these projects get off the ground by providing loans and technical help across a diverse set of eligible energy resources, including advanced fossil energy, new and advanced nuclear, and renewable energy & energy efficiency projects.

And while Congressional Republicans were quick to attack the debacle of loan recipient Solyndra (a solar energy start-up that ultimately declared bankruptcy), the DOE loan program makes a profit for American taxpayers while also supporting the public interest. 

Now as the DOE revamps the loan program under the guidance of Granholm and Shah, the goal is to make loans easier and less costly to access while also mandating job requirements for loan-seeking companies. As Granholm told Politico this week, “We can make sure we require those who get the benefit of the help to be able to offer positions that allow people to have a middle-class life.”

 Full Speed Ahead: Secretary Granholm said that during the Obama administration the loan program created thousands of clean energy jobs and put money back in the pocket of the taxpayer. “Our loan authority, $40 billion worth, has helped some of America’s bravest entrepreneurs get their best ideas off the ground and flourish into what they are today.” 

Granholm and Shah are determined to learn from past mistakes, be forgiving with this budding green revolution, and make a few changes of their own. “We’ve learned a lot since [Solyndra]…when you invest in technology that is new, you’re going to have some that don’t succeed,” Granholm told the AP. “We know [the program] had amazing success, for example with Tesla in the past, and we know it can have amazing success in the future with some changes.”

Jigar Shah has been hand-picked by Granholm to run the program because, in her words, he has “written the playbook on how to drive the market toward clean energy solutions.” The two plan to focus new changes on increasing access for small businesses and broadening requirements to encourage deployment of new technology. “These kinds of things should be addressed in order to make it really effective,” said Granholm. 

 

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