DOE Loan Program Revived – For Fossil Fuels?

That U.S. Department of Energy loan program  that helped inspire a clean energy boom – and a lot of controversy – is back. But it has a very different focus. Instead of aiding the development of innovation in renewable energy technologies, the Obama administration is now looking to back “advanced fossil fuel energy projects” with up to $8 billion in loan guarantees.

If you’re of a mind that fossil fuels are a dead end and we ought to steer the energy car in an utterly different direction, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz says you need to get real.

ccs air products

One of the carbon capture and sequestration projects to come online in the past year: Air Products’ facility in Port Arthur, Texas. (image via Air Products)

“Currently providing 80 percent of our energy, coal and other fossil fuels will continue to be a critical part of our energy portfolio as we move toward a low-carbon future,” Moniz said in a statement. “By helping to accelerate the introduction of innovative, clean fossil energy technologies ready for deployment at commercial-scale today, investments under this solicitation will help ensure we continue to have access to affordable, clean energy from all our domestic energy resources tomorrow.”

What exactly the program ends up backing will depend on who answers the DOE’s solicitation, and whose programs look almost certain to succeed – something the DOE is likely to be very careful about this time.

Though Solyndra-style failures were far and away the exception (Congress set aside 10 percent of the approximately $32 billion portfolio’s value to cover losses, but only about 2 percent has been lost), the DOE was clearly chastened by the highly publicized flops. In the past two years, it has policed the existing portfolio extremely closely, setting tough benchmarks for recipients to continue in the program.

The department did offer four areas of focus for this new money:

  • Advanced Resource Development: Projects that employ new or significantly improved technologies to economically develop, recover, and produce traditional and non-traditional fossil energy resources with reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Carbon Capture: Projects that integrate fossil fuel usage in traditional processes with new or improved technology that captures and removes CO2 for permanent storage in underground formations or through beneficial reuse.
  • Low-Carbon Power Systems: Projects that use fossil fuels for electricity generation using novel processes or improved technologies that can seamlessly integrate with CO2 capture and storage or beneficial reuse.
  • Efficiency Improvements: Projects that incorporate new or improved technologies to increase efficiencies and substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with fossil fuel supply and use.

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.