The Moniz, Reloaded
By Ben Geman (@Ben_Geman), Clare Foran (@ckmarie), and Jason Plautz (@Jason_Plautz)
It seems like political eons ago now, but in 2012 Republicans and their allies spent lots of time hammering the White House over Solyndra.
That's the high-tech solar-panel company that fell apart in 2011, taking a half-billion dollars in federal loans along with it. It was among a number of Obama-backed green-energy or auto companies that either collapsed or struggled badly.
But Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, on the job since mid-2013, has been a staunch defender of federal green-tech loan programs.
And now his plan to revive them seems to be picking up speed.
On Wednesday Moniz said that the department would probably throw open the door for new applications for renewable energy project loan guarantees during the second quarter of this year, a somewhat more precise forecast than his previous estimate of "relatively soon."
Also Wednesday, the Energy Department said it's rebooting the separate Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) loan program in preparation for offering the first new loans in years.
That program has previously supported Ford, Nissan, and the electric-vehicle companies Tesla, which repaid its loan ahead of schedule, and Fisker, which fell apart after drawing nearly $200 million in federal loans. (DOE recovered $53 million, and the company is now under new ownership.)
The Energy Department's loan-programs office, in a letter today to auto equipment makers, said projects to manufacture a "broad range" of component technologies are eligible for loans.
The ATVM program, which according to the department can provide another $16 billion worth of new loans, also said it has taken steps to make the application process faster and more responsive.
"Motor vehicle parts manufacturers play a significant role in the development and deployment of new technologies to meet the demand for fuel-efficient vehicles and we believe the ATVM Loan Program can play an important financing role as the industry establishes the next generation of manufacturing facilities in the United States," Moniz said in a statement.
Exactly what I need as a busy college student."
The loan programs for low-emissions technology projects and green-car manufacturing were first authorized in bipartisan 2005 and 2007 energy laws. But loans for renewable-energy projects, aided by the 2009 stimulus law, didn't begin until Obama was in office. Nor did the ATVM loans.
In 2009-11, the two programs supported automakers and an array of solar and wind power projects, a few solar-equipment makers (including Solyndra), and other ventures.
The department recently finalized a loan guarantee for a nuclear power project in Georgia, and it's taking applications for petroleum and coal-related projects that trap carbon emissions.
While political attacks against the loan program have died down, they haven't gone away entirely as Republicans continue to argue that the green-tech loan programs have been wasteful and unneeded.
Indeed, the House Republicans' budget plan unveiled this week would block future loans. But the proposal is only a symbolic statement of party principles. Anyway, the topic is no longer front-and-center for the House GOP, at least for now.
Moniz, meanwhile, is seeking to play offense in support of the loan program. He's happy to make the case that the overall loan portfolio is performing strongly despite a few flops.
"We have been taking the position quite consistently—and we're happy to discuss it any place, any time—that the program as a portfolio has done extremely well," Moniz told reporters after testifying today before the GOP-led House Appropriations Committee in a two-hour-plus hearing that was free of attacks on the program.
The $30 billion-plus portfolio's losses have been about 2.5 percent, according to the Energy Department. Moniz noted that the program has used only a small amount of the "loan loss reserve" that Congress provided
He even saw room for some loan-program humor.
"Maybe I'm worried that the arguments will change," Moniz told reporters. "That we're not taking enough risk."
TOP ENERGY NEWS
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BODY COUNT RISES IN LANDSLIDE. Officials now say 29 people died in a landslide in Washington state at the end of March with 20 more counted as missing. (New York Times)
CAN CONDENSATE SKIRT THE CRUDE-EXPORT BAN? Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska wants the Commerce Department to rewrite its definition of what qualifies for the crude-export ban. Condensate, a natural-gas liquid, currently falls under the ban, but Murkowski says it shouldn't. (Jennifer Dlouhy, Houston Chronicle)
IG DETAILS EPA'S HUMAN TESTING. A long-awaited report from EPA's inspector general said that the agency generally followed proper procedure for subjects of its human studies on air pollution, but could disclose more information about the long-term risks of the studies. The report concerned several trials where 81 participants were exposed to various levels of diesel exhaust or air containing particulate matter, the results of which were used by the agency in crafting air quality standards. According to the IG report, the agency did obtain the proper approvals from participants, but did not tell them about the small chance of long-term health effects like cancer (estimated by agency scientists to be 1 in 1 billion or 3 in 1 billion, depending on the exposure level).
LANDRIEU PRESSES FERC ON LNG. Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana is asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to give final approval to the Cameron liquefied natural gas export terminal in Louisiana no later than the middle of June.
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RUSSIA DITCHES DISCOUNT ON GAS. As tensions rise, Russian gas company Gazprom has raised prices by 40 percent for natural-gas shipments bound for Ukraine. (Al Jazeera)
CAUSE OF GAS-PLANT EXPLOSION UNKNOWN. State and federal authorities are trying to determine what sparked an explosion blast that injured five workers at natural gas plant in Washington state. (Jeff Barnard, Associated Press)
ENERGY IMPORTS DOWN 9 PERCENT, SAYS EIA. The Energy Information Administration said that U.S. energy imports fell 9 percent from last year, hitting their lowest level in 28 years. (Timothy Cama, The Hill)
EPA VOWS TO MEET COAL-ASH DEADLINE. Administrator Gina McCarthy committed to House Republicans that the agency would meet its Dec. 19 deadline to finalize regulations on the disposal of coal ash, but declined to offer any details of what the final rule might look like. EPA has been working on the rule for nearly four years and agreed to the December deadline as part of a deal with environmental groups who had sued the agency, seeking action.
AMERICANS SEE CONSERVATION AS HIGH PRIORITY. According to a Gallup Poll, Americans rate energy conservation as a higher priority than new energy production. (Gallup Politics)
EMANUEL REVERSES COURSE ON PETCOKE. Despite early aggressive rhetoric against storage of petroleum coke in Chicago, a new zoning ordinance from Mayor Rahm Emanuel would allow companies to burn and store it in the city if it's used for on-site manufacturing. (Michael Hawthorne, Chicago Tribune)
NEXTGEN TARGETS LEE TERRY ON KEYSTONE CLAIMS. NextGen Climate Action wants Republican congressman Lee Terry of Nebraska to prove that oil transported via the oil sands pipeline will remain in the U.S. after its refined. (NextGen Climate)
WHAT INSIDERS ARE SAYING…
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"More Regulation is Not the Answer. In announcing its methane plan, the White House is once again proposing "solutions" for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, yet failing to recognize the true source of American success in that regard—natural gas." —Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs, Western Energy Alliance
MONIZ FACES HOUSE GOP. The Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power holds a hearing on the Energy Department fiscal 2015 budget proposal with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.
CHEMICAL SECURITY BILL SEES VOTE. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a markup to consider a series of bills, including legislation that would improve safety standards for chemical tanks stored near drinking-water sources that was drafted in response to a West Virginia chemical spill in December.
JEWELL DEFENDS BUDGET. The House Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on the Interior Department fiscal 2015 budget proposal with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.
FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE BUDGET HEARING. The House Interior, Environment Appropriations Subcommittee holds a hearing on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fiscal 2015 budget proposal.
FISHERIES BILL MARKUP. The House Natural Resources Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs Subcommittee holds a markup on a series of bills on fisheries law enforcement.
NUCLEAR SECURITY BUDGET HEARING. The House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee holds a hearing on the DOE National Nuclear Security Administration fiscal 2015 budget proposal.
UKRAINE ENERGY DISCUSSION. The Atlantic Council holds a discussion on the energy implications of the Ukraine crisis with ambassador Carlos Pascual, the State Department special envoy for international energy affairs.
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Exactly what I need as a busy college student."