Entries in Department of Energy (13)


Gas Prices Remain Steady

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Across the country, the weekly average price of a gallon of regular gas hasn't budged in three weeks. It's remained at $3.30, up less than a penny from the previous week, according to the Department of Energy.  This price is down 9 cents from a year ago.

New Yorkers are paying the most at $3.70 a gallon, followed by Californians at $3.49.
The cheapest gas in the country is in the Rocky Mountain region at $2.84.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Gas Prices Climb to $3.72 a Gallon

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Gas prices are continuing to climb across the United States. The average price of a gallon of gasoline is $3.72, up seven cents from a week ago, according to the Department of Energy.

In the U.S., the price of gas in California continues to be the highest. The average price of gas on the West Coast rose to $3.95, up 19 cents from the previous week. Analysts expect West Coast gas prices to rise beyond $4 a gallon after a fire knocked out a key section of one of the nation’s largest oil refineries.

Meanwhile, the same U.S. Chemical Safety Board team that investigated the oil spill in the Gulf Of Mexico was standing by with state and company inspectors waiting for structural and environmental tests to see if it was safe to enter the unit. In all, five separate investigations will be done to determine the cause and effects of the Monday night blaze at Chevron’s Richmond refinery.

The Rocky Mountain region, according to the Department of Energy, saw a decline in the price of gasoline for the fourth consecutive week.

The Gulf Coast saw an eight cent decline in gas prices, ending the week of Aug. 13 at $3.49.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Gas Prices Continue Upward Climb

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Gas prices continued to tip upward, to an average price of $3.83 a gallon, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said Monday.

This week's average price for regular gas rose 26 cents from a year ago, and was up four cents from last week.

This week's figure was the highest price ever recorded in March, beating last week's record of $3.79, according to data going back to 1990.

Many consumers are tired of paying more than $4 a gallon for weeks in some parts of the country, including Western states like California. The EIA reported the average weekly price for the West Coast region was $4.22 a gallon.

The results of the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll show the damaging political effects of rising gasoline prices, which have surpassed the federal budget deficit as Obama's single weakest issue.

Americans by a broad 65-26 percent disapprove of how the president is handling the price of gas. Strong critics outnumber strong approvers by nearly four to one. And 89 percent are concerned about the recent run-up in gas prices; 66 percent are "very" concerned about it.

The price of oil futures settled at $107.40 a barrel on Friday for delivery in April, up from $106.70 from the previous week. Tension over Iran's nuclear program has led to concern over the country's oil supplies. Iran is OPEC's second-largest oil producer and the third-largest crude oil exporter in the world, according to the EIA.

A pre-emptive military strike by the U.S. or Israel on Iran's nuclear facilities would likely lead to global crude supply disruptions and a jump in oil prices, analysts predict.

But oil prices fell on Monday after China reported a slowdown in growth in imports and exports in its February trade data over the weekend.

The Oil Price Information Service said the price of gasoline surged by nearly a nickel over the weekend to $3.80 per gallon, the highest ever for this time of year.

Brian Hamilton, CEO of Sageworks, a financial information company, said gas prices remain a risk for everyone, like businesses. He said private companies pay a substantial amount in gasoline expense as a percentage of their income statement for production and travel.

"The economy is getting better, but high gas prices could depress the historical expansionary cycle down from its four-year life cycle," Hamilton said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


$50 Light Bulb Wins Government Affordability Prize

File photo. iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. government has awarded appliance-maker Philips $10 million for devising an “affordable” alternative to today’s standard 60-watt incandescent bulb. That standard bulb sells for around $1. The Philips alternative sells for $50.

Of course, the award-winner is no ordinary bulb. It uses only one-sixth the energy of an incandescent. And it lasts 30,000 hours -- about 30 times as long. In fact, if you don’t drop it, it may last 10 years or more.

But only the U.S. Government (in this case, the Department of Energy) could view a $50 bulb as cheap.

“I don’t want to say it’s exorbitant,” a Home Depot bulb-peddler quoted by The Washington Post demurs. He goes on to say, though, that he could see how a consumer shopping by price could come to that conclusion.

The Post says retailers are reluctant to criticize the bulb, lest they earn the wrath of Philips, a major supplier.

The Department of Energy created its so-called “L-Prize” to encourage manufacturers to come up with energy-efficient LED (light-emitting diode) alternatives to incandescent bulbs. To be deemed the winner, a bulb had to be affordable.

But LED alternatives already on the market and comparable to the L-Prize winner sell for less than half its price.

So by what standard is the winner cheap? The federal government’s, of course. But to be fair, also by the standard of other U.S.-made LEDs. The L-Prize originally required the winning bulb to be made in the U.S.A. The components for Philips’ bulb are made in California and assembled in Wisconsin. Cheaper LEDs of comparable performance come from overseas.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Solar Firm That Got $400M Federal Loan Cuts Workforce in Half

Abound Solar(NEW YORK) -- Another recipient of Energy Department loan funds has run into financial trouble.

Colorado-based Abound Solar announced this week it has been forced to lay off 180 of its 400 workers as it tries to retool to produce a more efficient type of solar panel in order to keep a technological edge on Chinese manufacturers who are flooding the market with less expensive models.  Abound received approval in 2010 for a $400 million government loan.

"As you know the solar market has been extremely difficult for all manufacturers," said Craig Witsoe, the CEO of Abound Solar, in an interview with ABC News on Wednesday.  "To continue to make the panel we make today, to have to sell it below cost, it's a tough environment to operate in."

It is one of four companies that have been issued a combined $1.3 billion in loans by the Obama administration to operate in the highly competitive field of solar manufacturing.  Solyndra, the best-known of those recipients, filed for bankruptcy last year, touching off a wave of controversy about the role of government money in backing high-risk start-up firms in the alternative energy field, and an investigation by Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Energy Department officials noted Wednesday that the federal loan to Abound had Republican support, including an $11.8 million tax credit from an Indiana economic development board chaired by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels.

"We will continue to work with Abound as we do with all of our loan recipients as it works through these issues," said Damien LaVera, a DOE spokesman.  "While the challenges facing solar manufacturers have been widely reported, we continue to believe that supporting innovative companies like this is important to ensuring our nation has the ability to compete for the clean energy jobs of tomorrow."

The Energy Department loans cut across a range of "green" technologies, and several of the recipients have been exhibiting signs of distress in recent weeks.  Earlier this month, electric car start-up Fisker Automotive announced it was being forced to halt production at its Delaware facility and lay off several dozen workers.  In November, the company developing batteries for Fisker announced the temporary layoff of 125 employees.  A123 Systems had received a $249 million Department of Energy stimulus grant.

Witsoe said the solar manufacturing sector has been especially hard-hit because of stiff competition from Chinese companies, which he says have selling below cost and dumping solar panels on the American market.

"We fully support global competition as long as it's fair," Witsoe told ABC News.  "It's a company like us versus a country.  China plays very hard."

In order to compete, Witsoe said Abound is retooling its manufacturing facilities to bring to market a more advanced, more efficient solar product that will keep the company ahead of its foreign competitors.  But while that work is being done, he said, the company could not maintain the size of its workforce and had to make the painful job cuts.

The company maintains its goal of producing its unique brand of solar panels for commercial customers at facilities in Colorado and Indiana.  It has drawn down $70 million so far from a $400 million federal loan and has been in discussions with the Department of Energy about revising the terms of its loan to insure it continues to have access to the federal funds.

"The jobs will definitely come back," Witsoe said.  "When we rescale with the new product, we will need to hire back likely as many people as we had.  We know this is a really difficult thing.  We hate to have any job loss in the company. But it was the right decision for the business."

Back in October, President Obama responded to questions about the risk assumed by his administration when it decided to back green energy start-up ventures with taxpayers' money.  He stood behind the decision, saying it was important for the government to support the push into alternative forms of energy, and the program had the potential to pay dividends in the form of thousands of new jobs.

"There were going to be some companies that did not work out," Obama told reporters.  "All I can say is the Department of Energy made these decisions based on their best judgments." 

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Double-Digit Jump in Gas Prices to Come?

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The pain at the pump for American drivers continues.

The Department of Energy is likely to announce on Monday that over the past week gas prices have climbed by about 12 cents a gallon.  This latest increase would push the nationwide average closer towards $4 a gallon and comes well ahead of the peak driving season -- beginning in mid-May -- when prices are expected to go even higher.

This month alone, the cost of crude oil has jumped from $96 to $109 a barrel.

President Obama has been facing pressure from some Democrats to consider releases from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.  However, energy analysts say that while this move might bring down gas prices for several weeks, it will have little impact on what happens during the summer and fall.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Energy Secretary Defends Loan Made to Now-Bankrupt Solyndra

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Energy Secretary Steven Chu offered a spirited defense Thursday of the administration's decision to provide now-bankrupt solar panel company Solyndra with a $535 million loan guarantee in 2009.

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee kept pressing Chu to admit that political favoritism was the ultimate factor in approving the loan since Solyndra's biggest investors were backed by George Kaiser, a major contributor to President Obama.

Despite four hours of hard questions from the GOP lawmakers, Chu held his ground, repeatedly stating that politics had no role in Solyndra acquiring over a billion dollars from his department despite trepidation by some within the administration that the company was not financially solvent.

Resisting calls for his resignation, Chu said he took responsibility for the loan.  Given the benefit of hindsight, he admitted it was "extremely unfortunate" and "regrettable."

As far as knowing that Solyndra was a risky bet, Chu told lawmakers, "The range of predictions being made by financial analysts ... the average of those were not expecting [solar panel] prices to plummet.  These companies and others got caught in a very bad tsunami."

But Chu refused to offer an apology for what he did or the eventual outcome even while acknowledging that there was virtually no chance that the government would recover its money.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Pleading the Fifth: Solyndra Execs Stonewall Congress

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The two top executives of the bankrupt solar power company Solyndra sat stone-faced before a Congressional committee Friday and invoked their Fifth Amendment rights, rather than explain how they blew through $535 million in taxpayer money.

"Let me just warn you and the other folks involved in this taxpayer rip-off," Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) told the Solyndra executives.  "We're not done.  No we're not."

The decision of Solyndra CEO Brian Harrison and Chief Financial Officer W. G. Stover to repeatedly refuse to answer questions about Solyndra's Energy Department loan guarantee was the latest twist in an unfolding investigation into the failure of the California solar panel manufacturer, which just one year earlier had been touted as a model of President Obama's green jobs program.

The Obama administration had selected Solyndra as the first to receive a loan under a program designed to provide government support to companies that would create jobs while generating energy from cleaner sources, such as solar, wind and nuclear.  President Obama personally visited the Solyndra complex, hailing it as a leader in this emerging field.

In August, though, Solyndra abruptly shut its doors, laying off 1,100 workers.  And within days it declared bankruptcy. Friday's hearing was the second in two weeks by the House Energy and Commerce Committee's investigative subcommittee, intending to unwind the deal and understand how signs of Solyndra's financial trouble had been overlooked by the Department of Energy.

"I want to ask Mr. Harrison if he thinks the American people who invested over a half a billion dollars deserve to know what happened to that money?" Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) asked the two executives.  Both declined to answer, invoking their Fifth Amendment rights.

"I don't understand what's self-incriminating about a yes or no answer to whether the American people deserve to know what happened to over a half a billion dollars of their money," Barton said.

For just over an hour, the two men continued to remain mum.

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) appeared annoyed, asking the men to explain their "plan to pay back the taxpayers $535 million you owe them."

"And when will you pay them back? Mr. Harrison?" he pressed to no reply.

Democrats said they, too, were puzzled by the silence of executives who just months earlier had sent a memo to Congress describing the company as "ramping" up its production, "competitive" with foreign rivals, and "on track" to hit its financial targets for the year.

The document obtained by ABC News, entitled "Exceeding Expectations: Solyndra Today," appears to have grossly distorted the company's actual financial standing.  Since Solyndra sent the document to Congress on June 23, followed by a mid-July letter and personal visit making more claims about its financial strength, the company has not only declared bankruptcy, it has been raided by the FBI.

"When Mr. Harrison was in my office in July he said that Solyndra's future was bright, with sales and production booming," said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).  "I 'd like to know why he told me that in July and then filed for bankruptcy one month later.  Unfortunately I will not get an answer today."

Earlier this week, a Solyndra spokesperson said in a statement that both Harrison and Stover would be "unable to provide substantive answers to the Subcommittee's questions," and said that "present circumstances require both gentlemen to exercise their Fifth Amendment rights."

The statement added that Solyndra is unaware of any wrongdoing by company officials related to the loan guarantee "or otherwise," and is cooperating with federal investigators.  "The company believes that the record will establish that Solyndra carefully followed the rules of the competitive application process, starting in December 2006 under the Bush administration and continuing under the Obama administration."

The subcommittee's investigation into the massive federal loan to Solyndra had already been underway for months.  In March, ABC News, in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity's iWatch News, began reporting on simmering questions about the role political influence may have played in Solyndra's selection as the Obama administration's first loan guarantee recipient.

Damien LaVera, an Energy Department spokesman, has told ABC News that politics never entered the decision to grant the loan, or restructure it earlier this year.  LaVera said the department decided it was worth trying to redo the terms to try and salvage the government's initial investment.

"[P]olitical or optical considerations took a backseat to putting the company and its workers in a better position to succeed and repay the loan," he said.

On Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee escalated its inquiry into the deal by seeking information from Solyndra's prime investors -- including Oklahoma oil billionaire George Kaiser, a bundler of campaign contributions to the president in 2008.

That quest for information could shift the spotlight from DOE to the big money players behind Solyndra: Kaiser's Argonaut Private Equity, and another group, Madrone Capital Partners.  Madrone is affiliated with the Walton family, founders and WalMart and major Republican donors. Kaiser and other investors get to recoup the $75 million they invested earlier this year before the U.S. government recoups taxpayer money in Solyndra's bankruptcy proceedings.

The House committee said it sent letters to Argonaut and Madrone seeking documents on the $535 million loan guarantee, the investors' $75 million financing this year -- and any communications with the Obama administration, including telephone calls between the White House and companies.  Kaiser has not responded to interview requests from iWatch News and ABC News since March.

The June memo and July letter both appeared to be efforts to counter claims that the company was in financial trouble, saying they were providing "the most accurate and up-to-date information."

The letter, signed by Solyndra CEO Brian Harrison, said, among other things, that the company had just completed a "record quarter for shipments," and that it was using "American innovation and ingenuity to compete on the global solar market."  Later, Solyndra would blame competition from China for its downfall.  Solyndra declared bankruptcy on Aug. 31.

Congressional investigators have also released a copy of a Sept. 10, 2011 email from an attorney for Solyndra to staff of the House Energy and Commerce Committee stating that the company's CEO "will appear voluntarily and answer the Committee's questions on any day the Committee chooses."

Just days later, an attorney for Harrison, the Solyndra CEO, wrote back to say his client would not answer any questions from the committee, and planned to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights when he appears before the committee Friday.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Fuel Prices Drop 7 Cents in Past Week

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- New data from the Energy Department shows consumers are getting a bit of the reprieve from the recent 15 percent drop in oil prices. The Energy Department says that the average price of a gallon of gasoline dropped seven cents in the past week to a national average price of $3.60.
Economists say falling gasoline prices act like tax cuts -- putting money in consumers’ wallets right away. Moody’s Analytics estimates that every 10-cent drop adds about $9 billion in consumer spending to the economy. So this week’s seven-cent drop is equal to a little more than $6 billion in new consumer spending.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Gas Prices See Seventh Consecutive Weekly Increase

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The average price of a gallon of gasoline in the U.S. is now $3.60, marking the highest price ever during the month of March and the seventh consecutive weekly increase, according to the Department of Energy.

The latest average, released Monday, is up up three cents from a week ago and 80 cents from one year ago.  Last week's national average was an updated $3.56 per gallon for regular gas, the 13th consecutive week that the average was above $3 a gallon, according to the DOE.

The last time gas rose higher than $3.50 was Sept. 29, 2008, when the weekly average hit $3.64.

Meanwhile, oil futures settled at $103.98 Monday after reaching a high of $105.76 earlier in trading.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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