Paul Dickerson, the COO of the federal government’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), says he has two goals: One, show industry and the venture capital worlds that his department is a friend to business – not isolated and bureaucratic, like government divisions tend to be. And two, educate the world that Americans are moving aggressively on renewable energy and efficiency — and are not just the wasters they are so often portrayed as.
The two-tiered pronouncement, which he shared with us in a conversation after a speech he gave at the Silicon Valley Bank’s Kellogg Auditorium in Santa Clara, Calif., sounds simple enough as a slogan. The realities of helping allocate billions of dollars and helping plan the department’s $1.47 billion budget, however, is anything but easy. The EERE invests in energy technologies like biomass and solar and Dickerson, who was appointed by President Bush, is responsible for directing the departments priorities, policies, program development and strategic planning.
When there is a lot of money at stake, things can get complicated. One complex issue is loan guarantees. Renewable energy companies like solar thermal startups that have cutting-edge, experimental (or even downright risky) technology want their loans — taken to finance the building of solar power plants, which costs hundreds of millions of dollars — to be guaranteed. If the federal government can guarantee a loan, the interest rate can drop considerably, which can help the plant actually get built.
In August 2006, the DOE issued a solicitation inviting pre–applications for up to $2 billion in loan guarantees –- 16 have made it past the first approval round. One is BrightSource (Luz II), which would use the guaranteed loan to build a solar thermal plant based on its tower technology in Nevada.
Not everyone is happy with the loan guarantee process. Ausra’s David Mills, for example, has been bullish on guarantees. But Ausra was not included in the first round of approvals from the DOE. Mills says:
While we are happy that Brightsource has made the list, it is a little shocking that we haven’t. The government is busy creating a non-level playing field, and discriminating against the best technology.
While Mills says the industry needs loan guarantees, it also “clearly need[s] a new structural process.”
Dickerson, however, has a lot of things to worry about beyond the ins and outs of loan guarantees, among them the looming energy bill. He said he hopes the bill will get sorted out this year and not get pushed into 2008, when every issue will, by default, become a political one. “Green is not a partisan issue,” he said.