The U.S. Energy Department will issue loan guarantees for renewable energy projects at a quicker pace in the coming months, a senior adviser at the agency said.
“If we did one during March, we’ll probably do one during April, two during May and then start moving at a faster rate,” Matt Rogers, the senior adviser charged with distributing loans and guarantees, said in a telephone interview yesterday. “The machine is picking up momentum as we work through this.”
Rogers also said the department was “on track” to give loans to carmakers and suppliers in April or May under a program to encourage greater fuel efficiency. The agency last month offered its first guarantee, with $535 million to support construction of a solar-panel manufacturing facility.
The $787 billion U.S. economic stimulus signed into law by President Barack Obama in February includes $38.9 billion for the department, with funding to underwrite as much as $60 billion in loans.
The agency also has $38.5 billion in loan guarantees from 2005 legislation that are awaiting issuance. Energy Secretary Steven Chu has said he wanted to expedite the pace at which the department was processing the applications when he arrived. Chu said to reporters that when he took over he was told the earliest loans could be issued was mid-2010.
Chu announced Feb. 19 he was tapping Rogers, a former senior partner with McKinsey & Co., to oversee spending from the stimulus package as well as reform the existing application process for loans and loan guarantees.
The programs are intended to support renewable energy projects or energy efficiency systems, clean-coal initiatives, nuclear power plants and nuclear fuel systems.
Rogers said the department was in talks with nuclear power plant developers about the option of providing “pre- construction financing.”
“The original structure of the program was that we couldn’t actually make a loan until they actually put a shovel in the ground, until they started construction, and given environmental reviews that is a next-year event in most of the cases,” Rogers said.
“The front-end engineering and design activities for these projects are large projects in and of themselves, a few billion- dollar activity even before you put a shovel in the ground,” he said.
Rogers said they are still trying to determine whether the nuclear industry is interested, and that the approach would need approval from the White House Office of Management and Budget and the Treasury Department.