Biden Officials Talk Solar Loans, Congress, and Gina McCarthy
Biden administration officials said yesterday that the president’s climate agenda still had a chance to gain traction in Congress and played down solar industry concerns about the new tariffs.
Ali Zaidi, deputy national climate adviser at the White House, and Kelly Cummins, who heads the Department of Energy’s Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations, sought to instill optimism about the future of the Clean Energy in the United States at a Time of Significant Headwinds. Congress has so far refused to act on key elements of President Joe Biden’s climate agenda, and the clean energy sector faces threats ranging from supply chain disruptions to allegations of forced labor in China.
Cummins, in her comments at the BNEF summit in New York, trumpeted what she called a “historic” time for the Energy Department’s work on emerging clean technologies and noted that her office is seeking additional funding from the Congress beyond its initial $21 billion in public funds. .
Zaidi, who took questions in a one-on-one interview at the same summit, told the audience that Congress could still pass much of Biden’s climate agenda, despite the failure of the ‘Build Back’ package. Better” at the end of last year. .
He also dismissed reports that his boss, White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy, would soon resign out of frustration over the slow progress on climate.
“Gina spoke for herself, which is to say she has no intention of leaving,” Zaidi said. “But let me say what is by no means uncertain is that we have a president in the Oval Office who ran on climate, got 81 million one-mandate votes for it . It doesn’t change.
Bipartisan Infrastructure Act clean energy funds for things like power transmission and electric vehicle chargers have warranted complementary tax policies for wind, solar and electric power sales , said Zaidi. He added that Russia’s war in Ukraine and rising inflation gave Congress yet another reason to pass a climate package that could reduce energy costs for many consumers – which the president said would happen if Congress was approving Build Back Better investments.
“I think the political economy to act on the investment in the American people, in our economic ability to deal with the climate crisis, in our economic ability to take advantage of the clean energy opportunity has increased,” did he declare.
Zaidi also addressed solar industry concerns about a Commerce Department investigation that could eventually result in tariffs on panels and components from four Southeast Asian countries. About 80% of the solar panels used in US projects can be traced back to these countries.
Solar advocates say the Commerce investigation could derail climate action (thread of energyApril 6).
The mere threat of tariffs, which could reach up to 250% per panel and apply retroactively to businesses, has cut off supplies from all four countries, solar advocates say.
About 65% of crystalline solar projects, the dominant form used in the United States today, could be at risk, the American Clean Power Association said yesterday after conducting a survey of developer members.
Earlier this month, Solar Energy Industries Association President Abigail Ross Hopper blamed Commerce for helping to create “the most serious crisis we have faced in our collective history.”
The tariffs were sought last year by Auxin Solar, a California-based panel producer, which says the fees are necessary to protect against China’s attempts to undermine US manufacturers.
Zaidi declined to comment on the validity of Auxin’s claim, but noted that Biden was seeking tax incentives to expand domestic solar manufacturing.
“You’re referring to a quasi-judicial process that’s independently run by the Commerce Department, so I’m not going to go into detail about that because it’s not appropriate to do so,” he said. he stated in response to a question about step on the probe.
That process aside, he added, “the broader solar policy is very clear.”
“While I think there is some appropriate anxiety in the short term, people are still quite optimistic about where we are going to be. [for solar deployment] in two, three, four, 10 years, and there’s a good reason for that,” Zaidi said.
Upcoming DOE Solar Loans?
The summit’s comments came a day after the Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office announced its second loan award under Biden (green wireApril 19).
The $107 million direct loan to Syrah Technologies LLC, a U.S. subsidiary of an Australian company, will help it scale up production of battery anode materials for electric vehicles at a plant in Vidalia, Louisiana, according to a blog post from the Director of the Lending Programs Office. Jigar Shah.
New backers for domestic solar manufacturing may also soon emerge from the DOE’s loan office, senior administration officials said during a press call earlier this week.
The Loan Programs Office, which has tens of billions in loan authorizations, was largely frozen under the Trump administration and only recently began issuing new awards. His first award under Biden came in December, when he approved a $1 billion loan guarantee for a low-carbon hydrogen and black carbon project in Nebraska (thread of energyJanuary 3).
Future loan awards from the lending office could go to U.S.-based solar manufacturers, officials said on the call. “Some of these deals are going to help us expand our manufacturing capacity and build that solar supply chain in the United States,” an official said.
DOE solar loans in previous administrations have been the subject of controversy. The bureau’s support for panel maker Solyndra in 2009, for example, became a politicized debacle after the company declared bankruptcy two years later. Critics said markets, rather than federal dollars, should shape the energy sector. The loan bureau’s supporters have often defended the bureau’s loans, pointing out that its overall portfolio remains in the dark.
What is clear is that the work of the Loan Office and Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations could become key parts of the Biden administration’s climate legacy, especially if Congress continues to thwart broader legislation.
A report this week by centrist think tank Third Way noted that the 2009 stimulus package provided $4.5 billion for large-scale protests. Over the next decade, skeptics may have limited the Department of Energy’s work on young clean technologies to early-stage research and development, Third Way said.
If something similar happens at the Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations, emerging clean energy projects supported by the office could collapse, Third Way said.
Congress will need to make “consistent and regular” appropriations that allow the office’s capabilities to grow “rapidly and in proportion” to the capital required for demonstration projects, according to the report.
“Significant progress has already been made, but it will take years of steady funding for the OCED to develop the capabilities and expertise it needs and to refine a market-driven framework for demonstrating new technologies,” wrote its authors.
Cummins, in his call for credits that would cover new clean energy work from his office, expressed a similar sentiment. “We really see our office as contributing to large-scale, cross-functional demonstrations, even beyond what has been appropriated,” she said. “We see this as an ongoing need for our demo work.”
His office’s top priority is to delve into thousands of pages of commentary on how to design energy demonstrations, which include billions in hubs for low-carbon hydrogen and carbon capture.
“We’re going through them now and looking at how that will inform our program design,” she said. “I would say we are moving quickly.”
This story also appears in Climate wire.