Obama's energy chief defends clean energy loans

October 1, 2011 - 5:30 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration's energy chief, facing increased pressure over the failure of solar panel maker Solyndra, defended on Saturday a loan guarantee program that has provided billions of dollars for solar energy and other renewable energy projects.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said a stimulus law program that expired Friday will help develop the world's largest wind farm in Oregon, several large solar power farms in California and Nevada, and the installation of solar panels on 750 rooftops in 28 states, among other projects.

The loan program has become a rallying cry for critics of the Obama administration's green energy program after a California solar panel maker declared bankruptcy despite receiving a $528 million federal loan. The company, Solyndra LLC, has laid off its 1,100 workers.

Chu did not mention Solyndra in a speech at a Solar Decathlon sponsored by the Energy Department. Students competed to build model solar homes in the event, which was won by the University of Maryland.

But Chu said loan guarantee projects will generate clean energy to power more than 2.5 million homes.

Combined with other programs run by the department, the clean energy loans are expected to support as many as 60,000 jobs, he said, though Republican lawmakers have disputed that figure.

Damien LaVera, a department spokesman, said the clean energy loan program has awarded 28 loans worth more than $16 billion since 2009.

Much of the spending has come recently, including more than $6 billion in the past week alone for seven separate projects.

The heightened pace of the loans has led some Republicans to question whether the administration, in its haste to award loans and beat a Sept. 30 deadline, may be stumbling into another Solyndra-like debacle. Republicans are also increasingly directing their criticism toward Chu specifically for decision related to Solyndra.

Chu dismissed criticism from those who he said "are ready to wave the white flag and declare defeat."

The United States faces a choice, he said, to sit on the sidelines or try to win the "clean energy race" with China, Germany and other countries.

He said the U.S. "can't afford not to" invest in clean energy.

"It's not enough for our country to invent clean energy technologies, we have to make them and use them, too," Chu said. "Invented in America, made in America and sold around the world. That's how we'll create good jobs and lead in the 21st century."

On Friday, the Justice Department moved to take control of Solyndra, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in early September. The company faces a criminal investigation by the FBI, as well as scrutiny from congressional investigators and government auditors at the Energy Department and Treasury Department.

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