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Posts from the "U.S. DOE" Category

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Meet the Obama Administration’s New Clean Energy Loan Man

The Department of Energy (DoE) yesterday chose venture capitalist Jonathan Silver to head up its loan programs, which include $25 billion in loan guarantees for low-emissions cars and $32 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy projects.

234725_0_0_1.jpgJonathan Silver (Photo: DC Business Journal)

Silver may have his work cut out for him on the latter program. While the auto industry loans have been coming at a more than healthy clip in recent months, three renewable energy companies have received a total of less than $600 million from the $32 billion pot for green power.

And as the Wall Street Journal notes, renewables industries aren't happy about the slow pace:

Some renewable-energy advocates have complained that the agency isn't moving quickly enough on other companies' applications for help. In a letter to congressional leaders last week, the heads of the Solar Energy Industries Association, the National Hydropower Association and three other trade groups warned that many projects are in danger of missing construction deadlines, partly because of what they said were delays in implementing the loan-guarantee program.

The recent letter comes after a May missive [PDF] from solar, wind, hydropower, biomass, and nuclear producers that lamented the slow pace of loan approvals and requested multiple changes to the process. The first solar company to win a DoE loan this year had to spend three years and $10 million before winning a final deal from the government.

In response to the concerns, Energy Secretary Steven Chu promised to speed up the process -- and Silver's appointment appears to be the first step in that effort.

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Electric Cars Got a Bigger U.S. Bet in 6 Months Than Transit Gets All Year

Vice President Joe Biden will return to his home state of Delaware today to announce that California car company Fisker Automotive will reopen a shuttered General Motors plant to build a moderately priced plug-in hybrid that goes by the code name Project NINA.

popup.jpgThe Wilmington, Delaware, GM plant that Fisker plans to reopen. (Photo: NYT)

Fisker's investment in the Delaware plant was made possible by a $528 million loan from the U.S. Department of Energy, which has offered $8.5 billion since June to producers of plug-in hybrids.

When that $8.5 billion is combined with the DoE's $2.4 billion in stimulus grants to car battery producers, Bloomberg notes that the Obama administration's total investment in low-emissions autos has topped $11 billion in six months -- about $500 million more than the annual budget of the Federal Transit Administration.

The DoE loan to Fisker has attracted its share of media scrutiny, with the Wall Street Journal suggesting that former Vice President Al Gore's backing helped the company win government support.

Henrik Fisker, CEO of his namesake company, responded that the loan was conditional and "will be repaid, with interest, to the American taxpayer," telling critics of the NINA cars' $40,000 price tag that "any new technology is expensive."

Fisker also noted that this year's $11 billion haul is just the beginning of Washington's investment in hybrid electric cars -- the market for which remains unproven. During the hectic days of last fall's financial bailout, Michigan lawmakers secured enough funding to guarantee $25 billion in loans for makers of more fuel-efficient cars. (By way of comparison, the U.S. DOT estimates that the nation's transit networks need $50 billion to get their equipment into a state of good repair.)

The loans to Fisker and Tesla, which got $465 million from the DoE in June, come from that $25 billion pot. And the government gave the hybrid automakers an undeniably good deal -- interest rates as low as 5 percent, compared with up to 20 percent on the private market, and a repayment window of 25 years.

Will the government's growing subsidies to automakers dissuade conservatives from claiming that transit is the nation's only subsidized mode of transportation? The chances aren't good.

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Department of Energy Gets Basic Math Wrong in its Rail Analysis

When it comes to the carbon consumption of cars, trains, and buses, the U.S. Department of Energy's (DoE) Transportation Energy Data Book [PDF] is an indispensable resource. But this year's Data Book contains an eyebrow-raising error in its analysis of rail's energy use.

Edition28.jpg(Image: DoE)

Page 66 of the Data Book, reprinted on the DoE's website on Inauguration Day, contains a table ranking the energy intensity of various light rail systems across the country.

The DoE lists the "average" energy efficiency of all light rail systems as 7,605 Btus per passenger mile, while the average for cars was 3,514 Btus per passenger mile.

Those numbers were enough to spark inflammatory headlines about the energy consumption of light rail. The only problem: The rail data is wrong.

An eagle-eyed Streetsblog Capitol Hill reader discovered that the DoE used simple averaging to obtain its light rail number, without weighting each city's light rail network based on how many passengers it carries.

So Kenosha's streetcars, which carry a bit more than 60,000 passengers annually, were treated the same as Seattle's light rail, where ridership is exceeding 60,000 every week.

Even famously anti-transit Randal O'Toole recognized the DoE's error and pointed out the actual average energy efficiency for light rail is 3,642 Btus per passenger mile -- comparable with the numbers for cars, which don't fully account for the choice of auto driven.

The same averaging error is made on page 67 of the Data Book, which states that the "average" energy efficiency of heavy rail is more than 3,600 Btus per passenger mile. That average put Cleveland's energy-chugging system, which carry about 30,000 passengers on an average weekday, on equal footing with the New York City subway, where the average weekday ridership tops 7 million.

When the Streetsblog reader contacted the DoE to inform them of the error, he got a quick acknowledgement and a promise to correct the data as soon as possible. The incorrect averaging should never have been used, the DoE said.

One wonders how many misleading commentaries transit critics can publish using the false data before the government corrects it.