DOE loan chief fleshes out clean energy plans

DOE loan chief fleshes out clean energy plans

The head of the Department of Energy’s loan program signaled yesterday that his office is in no rush to approve its “innovative” projects, as the Biden administration plans how to distribute funds from the infrastructure package.

The Loan Programs Office’s $40 billion in loan authority is viewed by many innovation advocates as an important climate policy tool. Under the Obama administration, LPO helped finance the first massive wind projects, giving legs to an industry that is now a linchpin of decarbonization efforts.

The office’s work was mostly put on ice under the Trump administration, however. And in the 11 months since President Biden began his tenure, the LPO hasn’t yet made a single award.

Yesterday, LPO’s director, Jigar Shah, defended the office’s pace and suggested that the Energy Department would likely take a similarly methodical approach with new energy funds from the $550 billion infrastructure package.

“When you think about how this stuff works, sometimes we confuse motion with progress, and I think we’ve been very careful at the Loan Programs Office not to confuse the two,” said Shah during a webinar hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center.

So far, the loan office has received $53.6 billion worth of completed applications from energy companies, or 66 projects in total, he said. Those range across technologies, including sustainable aviation fuel, direct air capture, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, battery manufacturing and critical minerals, among others.

But those applications have often raised philosophical questions about what the office should be prepared to finance, Shah said. “Do we want to do [battery] processing? Do we want to physically dig up dirt [for battery minerals]?” he said.

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