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Fueling the Future: Investments in Clean Energy Are a Good Deal

J. Mijin Cha

The Republican push to end the Department of Energy’s (DoE) guaranteed loan program as part of their budget plan is misguided and counter-productive. The program was established in 2005, under the Bush Administration, to encourage development of new energy technologies that create jobs and bring us closer to energy independence. So far, the program has created 64,000 jobs and provided much needed financial support for innovative research and development.

The Solyndra bankruptcy was the exception, not the rule, of the guaranteed loan program. For example, in 2010, the DoE guaranteed a $465 million loan to Tesla Car Company. With that loan, Tesla was able to open a manufacturing plant in Fremont, California that not only created jobs but also hired many of the workers that were laid off from a neighboring Toyota plant. Other funded projects include two of the world’s largest solar thermal projects, one in Arizona and one in California, and the world’s largest wind farm in Oregon.

As for Solyndra, the company had acquired $1 billion in private investment and in 2010, was named the top clean-tech company in the U.S. by the Wall Street Journal. Its initial loan application was submitted in 2006 during the Bush Administration and contrary to what’s being reported, the loan application was never rejected. Instead, the loan program staff remanded the application and set a schedule to review additional due diligence that would result in a loan approval around March or April of 2009. The schedule for completing the loan review was set before President Obama’s Administration came into office and the career staff reviewing the loan application did not change between administrations. 

The hearings on Solydnra provide conservatives with a platform to discredit investing in the clean economy future. But, they couldn’t be more wrong. Investment in clean energy is necessary for our economic and energy future.  In one of the greatest ironies, solar panels were invented in the U.S. but it is China that is benefiting from our technology due to strong government support. Eliminating the guaranteed loan program just sets us further back and, worse, puts us at risk of being excluded from the clean energy future all together.