During coronavirus, Trump sits on clean energy loans
WASHINGTON – As the government struggles to keep businesses afloat during the pandemic, the Trump administration has around $ 43 billion in low-interest loans for clean energy projects, and critics blame the Department of Energy partisan opposition to the disbursement of funds.
Congress is already considering more relief from coronaviruses, despite growing concern about a projected annual budget deficit of nearly $ 4 trillion. To some energy experts and lawmakers, it is inconceivable that the tens of billions of dollars that Congress authorized long ago have gone unused.
“We are looking all over Washington, DC for money to get people back to work and here we have over $ 40 billion,” said Dan Reicher, executive director of the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at University. of Stanford, who served in the Department of Energy under President Bill Clinton. “Now is the time to really get these programs back on track.”
The loans – which would help renewables, nuclear power, and carbon capture and storage technology – had some bipartisan support even before the coronavirus pushed 30 million people out of work. But some supporters of the program said it was being held back by a president who falsely claimed wind power causes cancer and has consistently called for deep cuts in renewable energy spending, including the loan program.
“They haven’t made any or all of these loans since he became president,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “There is an ideological or political aspect to this. The president is not someone who seeks to promote the clean energy sector.
Mr Pallone said low-carbon technology efforts created more than 3 million jobs before the pandemic, and said he planned to prioritize finding ways to address unspent loans during the pandemic. of the next stimulus.
The last new project approved under the programs dates from the end of 2016, a loan to a carbon capture and storage plant in Louisiana. The Trump administration approved a follow-up loan for a nuclear reactor project in Georgia, but the process began under the Obama administration.
Shaylyn Hynes, spokesperson for the Department of Energy, declined to explain why the loans are not being disbursed. She said the Trump administration had supported renewable energy in other ways, such as funding research and development for wind and solar power. She also said in a statement that Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette had asked the agency “to use all of its resources to support the energy industry during the Covid-19 pandemic, including the loan program office “.
The money in question comes from a number of sources, including a $ 17.7 billion loan program for advanced auto technology and a $ 2 billion loan program for tribal energy projects.
Most of it, about $ 24 billion, is in what’s called the Title XVII loan program. This was authorized in 2005 to support the deployment of major projects that avoid, reduce or sequester emissions due to global warming. In 2009, in response to the last financial crisis, Congress temporarily extended the program. Meanwhile, the Obama administration granted a $ 535 million loan to Solyndra, a California solar company that went bankrupt.
This failure still serves as a warning to many Conservatives who say the program is fundamentally flawed.
Nicolas Loris, an economist and researcher at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research organization, said the federal government shouldn’t be on a mission to help commercialize energy.
“I’d rather it not be spent or redirected to research,” Loris said of the $ 43 billion in loan guarantees. He added that he believes there are better ways to help the clean energy industry right now, such as President Trump’s elimination of tariffs on imported solar panels.
But the Title XVII loan guarantee program is not entirely, or even mostly, for renewable energies. It is divided into $ 10.9 billion for advanced nuclear power, $ 8.5 billion for advanced fossil fuel, and $ 4.6 billion for renewables.
“Republicans have decided they don’t want this money coming out, although much of it could be for things they say they like, like the oil and gas industry or carbon capture and sequestration or l ‘nuclear industry,’ said Peter W. Davidson, who led the lending program under former President Barack Obama and is now managing director of Aligned Climate Capital, an asset management company.
Sydney Bopp, associate director of technology policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center who worked in the energy department during the Obama and Trump administrations, noted that some challenges with the program were systemic. For example, projects must prove that they can sell their energy and repay the loan. It’s a slow process, and that’s part of the reason the loans were designed not to expire.
“Big, one-of-a-kind projects take time,” said Ms. Bopp. “Trying to get them to move forward is no easy task.”