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Entries in Steven Chu (4)

Tuesday
Mar202012

Sec. Chu Gives Energy Dept. an “A” on Gas Prices

Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu (US Department of Energy)(WASHINGTON) -- Energy Secretary Steven Chu told a House committee Tuesday morning that his agency deserved at least an “A” grade for its handling of gas prices and fuel standards.

Testifying before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Chu was asked to grade the department’s role in regulating the costs at the pump. At a separate hearing earlier this month, the secretary rated himself as an “A-minus” in his overall performance. On Tuesday, chairman Rep. Darryl Issa, R-Calif., asked if he should receive the same mark on fuel policies.

“The tools we have at our disposal are limited, but I would say I would give myself a little higher in that since I became secretary of energy, I’ve been doing everything I can to get long-term solutions,” Chu said.

Maintaining that oil prices were largely out of the agency’s control, the secretary said increased domestic production and new markets in alternative energies had kept domestic prices down.

Chu pointed to international factors as the driving influence behind prices, including uncertainty in the Middle East and demand in emerging economies including China and India.

“The demand in the United States is quite moderate. In fact, it’s essentially flat, which is good news especially as we increase our oil production.”

Republicans present for the testimony balked at the claim, with some suggesting the Obama administration had been disingenuous for counting increased oil production as an accomplishment when actual drilling on public land had retracted. Chairman Issa said even the growth in private development had been in spite of the president’s policies.

“You can’t take credit for that which you are deterring just because you’re being overcome by the private sector working around it.”

It is a theme commonly espoused by the party regarding positive economic trends.

Stimulus funds from the American Recovery Act in alternative fuels also came under fire, with Republicans saying the investments had produced little results. Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., was particularly frustrated with funding in Ford and Nissan’s electric and hybrid divisions.

“To tell my constituents, with 10 percent unemployment, Western North Carolina, that you need to buy a Nissan Leaf? That in order to commute for 50 minutes a day you’re going to have to have an employer who is wonderful enough to provide you a place to plug in your car, so you can get home? It’s absolutely ridiculous.”

Chu acknowledged the high cost of hybrid and electric vehicles, but said aggressive research in battery technology would introduce a “$20,000 car that can pay for itself in five years.”

Democrats on the committee said backlash over administration programs were purely political. After noting that in 2010 domestic oil imports had dropped below 50 percent for the first time in over a decade, ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., urged the body to think outside short-term party gains.

“We have to be responsible about our oversight,” he said.  “We cannot simply attack any program that has the words ‘Obama’ and ‘clean air’ attached to them.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Mar192012

GOP: Energy Dept Cut Corners to Lend Arizona Solar Firm $1.6 Billion

US Department of Energy(WASHINGTON) -- House Republicans are preparing to grill Energy Secretary Steven Chu this week over $1.6 billion in loans to finance two massive solar energy projects planned for the desert Southwest, saying investigators have found evidence suggesting the administration cut corners in order to get the loans approved.

"The Department of Energy manipulated analysis, ignored objections from career professionals, and strategically modified loan evaluations in order to force project funding out the door," House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-California, said in a statement provided to ABC News.

The Department of Energy says Chu will have plenty of material with him to rebut those allegations Tuesday when he comes to the Hill to testify before Issa's committee. Agency officials continued to characterize criticism from House Republicans as misleading attacks that are aimed at scoring political points.

Energy Department spokesman Damien LaVera accused the committee of "inventing false and misleading controversy."

"Decisions made on loan applications were made on the merits after extensive review by the experts in the loan program," LaVera said. "In this case, the Department backed loans for two innovative solar projects that will support hundreds of jobs and provide clean power to tens of thousands of homes."

Two separate House committees have been investigating the Energy Department's loan program for more than a year. Their efforts gathered steam last fall when the first company to receive a federal green energy loan, Solyndra, filed for bankruptcy. This latest review delves into highly technical aspects of the administration's sizeable bet on solar energy and the complex rules set up to help the administration pick the best projects to support.

Energy officials told ABC News the department followed a rigorous process to evaluate each applicant, and the two projects being scrutinized by Issa's committee are some of the most exciting solar ventures underway in the United States. If successful, the massive generating facilities would be by far the largest of their kind in the world -- comprised of more than five million solar panels and 35,000 metric tons of steel.

Republicans say they sifted through tens of thousands of pages of internal records turned over by the Energy Department in response to their requests.

Investigators with the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said the documents they reviewed have raised new questions about the administration's decision to grant multiple loans to the solar energy giant First Solar, an Arizona-based company that both makes solar panels and assembles enormous solar generating facilities that are then turned over to utility companies to operate. Two of the company's largest projects won federal loans -- generating facilities called Agua Caliente, in Arizona, and the Antelope Valley Solar Ranch in California. (Two more First Solar facilities also qualified for another $2 billion in loan guarantees, making the company one of the nation's largest beneficiaries of the Obama administration's green energy initiative.)

In order to receive the loan money, First Solar had to provide evidence that each project would employ new and innovative technologies to generate energy. Republican investigators said Friday the records they reviewed raised doubts about whether the solar facilities actually do that. Among the documents they cite is an email from a top technical expert inside the department, written less than six weeks before the loans to First Solar were approved, in which he argues that one of the supposed advances -- use of something called a "single axis tracker" -- was actually not all that new.

"Be clear this is not an innovation," wrote Dong K. Kim, the director of the loan program's technical division. "The record will show we did not grade this as an innovation."

Further, Kim writes that "someone keeps changing" internal documents to hold out the tracking technology as innovative. And he warns that "whoever continues to make this change needs to understand that Technical does not support [identifying the trackers] as an innovative component."

A second aspect of the solar plants that the Energy Department identified as innovative had already been in use in over 200 units in Europe, according to the internal documents.

"These facts make clear DOE substantively failed to fund innovation, and instead gambled with $3 billion taxpayer dollars on a single firm, First Solar," said Becca Watkins, an oversight committee spokeswoman.

Energy Department officials told ABC News they believe the Republican investigators are looking at an incomplete picture, saying that Kim -- the author of the email -- ultimately signed off on the technical innovations in the two solar projects, as did senior loan officers who conducted their own thorough review. They also suggested the House investigators have misread the rules -- that the innovations in the solar project meet the requirements.

The fact that some of the innovative technology has been used in projects in Europe, for instance, does not mean the project is not innovative under the rules the department set out to govern the loan program. Technology that has not been used commercially in the United States will qualify as innovative, the rules say. House Republicans counter that the rules explicitly call for technology that is "new or significantly improved."

"For nearly a year, Congressional critics of the Department's loan programs have demonstrated a consistent pattern of cherry-picking individual emails from the hundreds of thousands of pages of documents the Department has provided to Congress with the sole purpose of inventing false and misleading controversy," LaVera said.

"While the law that created the [green energy] loan program does not include any requirement to limit our support to innovative projects, the Department chose to apply a tougher standard that would ensure we were investing in the kind of projects that will help the United States compete for the clean energy jobs of the future," he said. "After a careful review on the merits, the senior career official responsible for the loan program's technical reviews made clear these projects met that standard."

For its part, First Solar officials say it considers the two projects funded with government loans to be revolutionary in the solar industry.

Both are "of unprecedented size and scale that will provide clean power for 175,000 average homes while displacing 360,000 metric tons of CO2 annually -- equivalent to taking 70,000 cars off the road," said Ted Meyer, the company's vice president of global corporate communications.

Both projects are incorporating new technologies to "help to ensure the reliability and stability of transmission systems, which is imperative for the long-term integration of renewable energy into the grid. It is expected that these technologies will eventually become standard in the solar power industry," he said. In addition, he added that the single-axis trackers at the Antelope Valley project "will enable the modules to rotate to capture more sunlight, typically resulting in 15-25 percent more annual energy yield, depending on location."

First Solar officials say they are forecasting more than $3 billion in revenue this year, but they acknowledge the company has suffered along with the rest of the solar industry as European subsidies have dried up and China has flooded the market. The company's stock has been sliding, and has become a favorite for so-called "short sellers" -- investors who are betting on the company to fail. 

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Nov182011

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

Wednesday
Nov162011

Energy Secretary Chu Takes Full Responsibility for Solyndra 

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Energy Secretary Steven Chu will accept full responsibility Thursday for the decision to risk $535 million on Solyndra, the government-supported solar panel manufacturer that shut its doors earlier this year, laying off 1,100 workers, and is now the subject of multiple federal investigations.

"As the Secretary of Energy, the final decisions on Solyndra were mine, and I made them with the best interest of the taxpayer in mind," Chu has written in testimony prepared for his first appearance before Congress to answer questions about the failed loan.

"I want to be clear: over the course of Solyndra's loan guarantee, I did not make any decision based on political considerations," says Chu's prepared testimony, which was made public by his aides late Wednesday. "My decision to guarantee a loan to Solyndra was based on the analysis of experienced professionals and on the strength of the information they had available to them at the time."

Chu's testimony before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee that has been investigating the loan is expected to be followed by pointed questions from Republican members who have been highly critical of the Solyndra loan. The loan to the California energy firm was at one time held up by the Obama administration as a model of the president's plan to infuse start-up clean energy firms with federal support in hopes of sprouting a vibrant new high tech industry.

But as ABC News first reported in March, in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity, the model first loan was emerging as a troubling example of a program that was taking big risks with public funds, and was in some instances benefitting investors who had strong political ties to Obama. One of the top investors in Solyndra, Oklahoma billionaire George Kaiser, was also a prolific fundraiser for Obama during the 2008 campaign.

The Energy Department has maintained that the program remained untainted by politics, and that recipients of billions of dollars in federal loans were selected exclusively based on their potential for success – with no political consideration. In advance of Thursday's hearing, investigators with the Republican-led committee released the latest batch of internal emails it has reviewed. Among them were emails that suggested that Energy officials asked the company to delay layoffs at its California facility until after the Nov. 2 midterm elections.

The two congressmen leading the investigation, Reps. Fred Upton (Mich.) and Cliff Stearns (Fla.), released a statement saying they hope Chu's testimony will "shed light on key questions about the decision-making inside the Department of Energy and the role of other agencies and officials, from the Office of Management and Budget to the west wing of the White House."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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