Energy Secretary Steven Chu defends loans for solar power and wind energy

The Obama administration’s energy chief, facing increased pressure over the failure of solar energy maker Solyndra, defended on a loan guarantee program that has provided billions of dollars for concentrating solar power, photovoltaic, wind power and other renewable energy projects.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said a stimulus law program will help develop the world’s largest wind farm in Oregon, several large concentrated solar thermal power and photovoltaic plants in California and Nevada, and the installation of solar panels on 750 rooftops in 28 states, among other projects.

The loan program has become a rallying cry for critics of the Obama administration’s green energy program after a California solar panel maker declared bankruptcy despite receiving a $528 million federal loan. The company, Solyndra LLC, has laid off its 1,100 workers.

Combined with other programs run by the department, the clean energy loans are expected to support as many as 60,000 jobs, he said, though Republican lawmakers have disputed that figure. Damien LaVera, a department spokesman, said the clean energy loan program has awarded 28 loans worth more than $16 billion since 2009.

Much of the spending has come recently, including more than $6 billion in the past week alone for seven separate projects. The heightened pace of the loans has led some Republicans to question whether the administration, in its haste to award loans and beat a Sept. 30 deadline, may be stumbling into another Solyndra-like debacle. Republicans are also increasingly directing their criticism toward Chu specifically for decision related to Solyndra.

Chu dismissed criticism from those who he said "are ready to wave the white flag and declare defeat." The United States faces a choice, he said, to sit on the sidelines or try to win the "clean energy race" with China, Germany and other countries.

He said the U.S. "can’t afford not to" invest in clean energy. "It’s not enough for our country to invent clean energy technologies, we have to make them and use them, too," Chu said. "Invented in America, made in America and sold around the world. That’s how we’ll create good jobs and lead in the 21st century."

Loan applications reviewed by the Department have undergone many months of due diligence and often receive bipartisan support. DOE evaluates the technical aspects of an application to make sure the technology is feasible, works to ensure that projects can be built to scale, does extensive market analysis to ensure there is a place in the market for the product, and evaluates the finances of the project to ensure it is commercially viable. We are confident that supporting these projects will help American companies compete in the global clean energy market.

The Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office administers three separate programs: the Title XVII Section 1703 and Section 1705 loan guarantee programs, and the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing (ATVM) loan program. The loan guarantee programs support the deployment of commercial technologies along with innovative technologies that avoid, reduce, or sequester greenhouse gas emissions, while ATVM supports the development of advanced vehicle technologies. To date, the Department has issued loans, loan guarantees or offered conditional commitments for loan guarantees totaling nearly $40 billion to support more than 40 clean energy projects across the United States, including several of the world’s largest concentrating solar power generation facilities, three geothermal energy projects and the world’s largest wind farm.