The Department of Energy’s loan office administers three different programs that were designed to support alternative energy efforts directly or to encourage private investors to fund new green technology by promising to assume the company’s debt in the event of default. The first is an incentive program authorized in 2007 that provides loans to companies that develop advanced technology vehicles and components. The second is a loan guarantee program authorized by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that supports clean energy companies that would otherwise find it difficult to obtain private financing. The third was a temporary program that expired at the end of last month administered through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 that authorized loan guarantees for renewable energy companies, biofuel projects and other energy-efficiency efforts. It was this program through which the now-bankrupt Solyndra obtained its $535 million loan guarantee. In its last days, this program approved nearly $5 billion in loan guarantees, raising more concerns from Congressional Republicans about whether the selection process is sufficiently careful.
During the past couple of years, shepherding clients through the steps of participating in the $16 billion loan guarantee program has kept K Street busy.
Since the inception of the guarantee program in 2009, dozens of companies, including established utilities and startups, have turned to lobbying shops that include Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, ML Strategies, SC Partners, Liebman & Associates and others in hopes of winning a slice of the multibillion-dollar pie. The push has spawned the hiring of energy specialists and has prompted Energy Department officials to open their own shops. McBee Strategic Consulting reports that during the past three years, it alone has landed more than $2.6 billion in Energy Department awards for clients. McBee worked with Solyndra early in the process.
Though the Recovery Act loan guarantee program has ended and Solyndra’s bankruptcy has likely imperiled the amount of funding that will be directed to the department’s remaining alternative energy programs in the future, the renewables industry has continued to hire influencers to head to the Hill. Solyndra itself brought on the Glover Park Group to “introduce” the company to Energy and Commerce Committee members in early August.
The treasurer of a new political action committee focused on energy efficiency said the Solyndra debacle could even boost its fundraising efforts.
Energy efficiency advocate O.L. O’Neal notified the Federal Election Commission at the beginning of August that he was organizing the Efficient America PAC, which will have two separate bank accounts to raise money for candidates — mainly incumbents with a proven track record — and independent expenditures. O’Neal originally estimated the group would raise a quarter-million dollars during this election cycle and says the Solyndra fallout has not changed that goal. Efficient America will begin fundraising in earnest now that the FEC has issued legal guidance on hybrid PACs.
“It may help,” O’Neal said of the Solyndra headlines. “We have some things scheduled for the next few weeks. We’re going to start contacting some stakeholders we feel would be interested.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.