Department of Energy

A Competition Worth Winning

August 31, 2011

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U.S. solar cell (PV) and module manufacturing market share. | Sources: PV News and Navigating Consulting.

U.S. solar cell (PV) and module manufacturing market share. | Sources: PV News and Navigating Consulting.

Since 2009, the Department of Energy’s Loan Program has supported a robust, diverse portfolio of more than 40 projects that are investing in pioneering companies as we work to regain American leadership in the global race for clean energy jobs.  These projects include the world’s largest wind farm, several of the world’s largest solar generation facilities, one of the country’s first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plants, and the first new nuclear power plant in the U.S. in the last three decades.  Collectively, the projects plan to employ more than 60,000 Americans, create tens of thousands of indirect jobs, provide clean electricity to power three million homes, and save more than 300 million gallons of gasoline a year. 

Our loan program catalyzes American innovation and private sector investment behind promising companies -- so that American workers have a chance to compete against China and other countries that much more heavily subsidize clean energy companies.  While each transaction undergoes months of extensive and careful expert review to minimize risk, there will always be an element of risk with investments in the most innovative companies.  The alternative is simply walking off the field and letting the rest of the world pass us by. 

Solar panel manufacturing is a growing international market, with increasingly intense competition from Chinese manufacturers who are supported in many cases by interest free government financing that is much more generous than what the U.S. provides.  The price for solar cells has fallen 42 percent since the beginning of the year -- even as European countries, currently the largest market for solar panels, are facing economic turmoil and have greatly reduced subsidies for solar power.  The changing economics have affected a number of solar manufacturers in recent months, including unfortunately, Solyndra, a once very promising company that has increased its sales revenue by 2000 percent in three years and sold more than 1000 installations in 20 countries.  As a result, Solyndra now plans to suspend its manufacturing operations and file for bankruptcy protection.

This loan guarantee was pursued by both the Bush and Obama Administrations.  Private sector investors – who put more than $1 billion of their own money on the line – also saw great potential in the company. 

We have always recognized that not every one of the innovative companies supported by our loans and loan guarantees would succeed, but we can’t stop investing in game-changing technologies that are key to America’s leadership in the global economy.  These projects, which include more than 40 other companies, are on pace to create more than 60,000 jobs.

Congress recognized the risks inherent in such an effort, and wisely set aside funding to offset any potential defaults or losses.  That funding made it possible to support such a broad, promising portfolio of investments, and is significantly greater than the amount that the government stands to lose on this transaction.  While we are disappointed by this outcome, we continue to believe the clean energy jobs race is one that America can, must and will win.