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WASHINGTON (AP) – As part of their clean energy agenda, the Biden government is reviving a Department of Energy program that says it has paid billions of dollars in loan guarantees to companies like electric car maker Tesla and failed solar company Solyndra, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.
The loan program helped set up the country’s first utility-scale wind and solar parks as part of the Obama administration’s efforts to create “green jobs,” but largely fell asleep under President Donald Trump.
The program bolstered Tesla’s efforts to become an electric car giant, but stumbled upon a large loan guarantee for Solyndra, the California solar company that failed shortly after receiving federal funding a decade ago and cost taxpayers more than $ 500 million.
Republicans and other critics cite Solyndra as an example of lavish spending under President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan, and loan guarantees have largely dried up in recent years. The Ministry of Energy provided guarantees of 12 billion US dollars for the Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia, but no other loans were offered under Trump.
That will change – by and large, says Granholm.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Granholm said up to $ 40 billion in guarantees are being provided for a wide variety of clean energy projects, including wind, solar and hydropower, advanced vehicles, geothermal and even nuclear.
“It has to be clean. That’s it, ”she said. “And when I say clean, you know it’s technologies that are researched in the laboratory,” such as projects to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions, so-called green hydrogen and other energy sources, she said.
The program is overseen by Jigar Shah, a longtime clean energy entrepreneur who pioneered solar energy in the United States
While Republicans will likely focus on avoiding Solyndra again, Granholm, a former Michigan governor, said Tesla was a better example. Company founder Elon Musk has repaid the loan early in whole years and Tesla is now one of the world’s leading manufacturers of electric cars and battery storage systems.
“I mean, that was of course two governments ago,” she said, referring to Solyndra, who went bankrupt in 2011. “We have learned a lot since then. People understand that when you invest in new technology, you will have some that are unsuccessful. ”
Still, the loan program has returned more than $ 500 million to taxpayers in total. “People are paying back their loans with interest,” Granholm said.
Granholm describes himself as a “big fan” of Shah, who is moderating an energy podcast and advising investors on low-carbon projects. “I’m very excited about his leadership and about actually using the DOE loan program again,” she said.
The program “has been a little bit dying in recent years,” she said on Wednesday, but it is “an amazing tool”. Although it needs to be “streamlined” to make it easier for companies to apply, “we know it has had amazing successes, for example with Tesla in the past, and we know that with a few changes it can have amazing successes in the future.”
On other issues, Granholm said she believes electricity suppliers can meet President Joe Biden’s goal of 100 percent clean electricity by 2035. The leader of an electricity company lobby group said last month that the 2035 date would be “an incredibly difficult situation” for most US electricity providers.
It is “feasible” to get 80 or 90% of the clean electricity, she said. “And the last bit will be more difficult, but we have to do it.” The good news is that companies have time to make the transition and improve the technology needed to produce clean electricity on a larger scale, she said.
Granholm also promised that the Department of Energy will be part of Biden’s commitment to environmental justice. Shalanda Baker, Granholm’s Assistant Director of Energy Justice and Equity Advisor, will lead the effort and reach out to disadvantaged communities who have lost their jobs in coal mines, power plants, or are near refineries, incinerators or other sources of danger.
Biden has promised that 40% of the benefits of investing in clean energy will go to disadvantaged communities “so they don’t forget and don’t become invisible,” Granholm said.
Granholm, who took office on February 25 after being approved by the Senate, said her first week on the job was “an amazing learning experience in the fire department.”
Like previous energy secretaries, Granholm was impressed by the breadth and scope of the agency, as well as the complexity of research and the sheer number of PhD scientists in the department’s 17 national laboratories. The Department of Energy oversees, among other things, the country’s nuclear stocks.
“It’s just a great organization and I can’t wait to learn more every day,” said Granholm. “I look forward to seeing the fruits of all this research flow into the field.”
Granholm said she plans to visit “all” of the 17 laboratories that stretch from New York to California and conduct cutting-edge research on a range of scientific and nuclear issues. Granholm and scientists from several national laboratories will host an event Thursday to discuss research on COVID-19, including the spread of the disease, structure of the virus, and effective vaccine design, while the Biden government continues to apply three federally approved vaccines Market brings.
The laboratories also study COVID-19 variants and technologies that may protect against future pandemics.