House panel approves 'clean energy' bank

The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a provision to its sweeping climate and energy bill that would create an autonomous Clean Energy Deployment Administration within the Energy Department and make reforms to DOE's loan guarantee program for low-emission projects.

The time spent debating the amendment was more than hour, suggesting the committee will face a slog through the 946-page measure. The amendment passed 51-6, with ranking member Joe Barton (R-Texas) among a handful of Republicans who opposed it.

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who offered the amendment with Democrats Jay Inslee of Washington and Bart Gordon of Tennessee, said the plan would aid deployment of new nuclear plants as well as renewable technologies. Changes to the loan guarantee program and creation of a "clean energy" bank within DOE are also part of a major energy bill before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, although the plans are not identical.

The Clean Energy Deployment Administration would be empowered to provide a suite of financing options, including direct loans, letters of credit, loan guarantees, insurance products and others.

The bank would fund "breakthrough" technologies and is aimed at bridging what is known as the "valley of death" that can prevent promising technologies from moving from the lab into commercial demonstrations and markets for lack of private-sector lending.


"If you are trying to generate new energy and new sources, you have to allow ... a mechanism to allow these new energy sources to get to market," Dingell said.

The bank could fund projects for energy production, transmission, storage and other areas that could reduce greenhouse gases, diversify energy supplies and save energy.

The bill does not lay out specific technologies, but supporters said advanced nuclear and renewable energy projects, as well as carbon capture and storage, would qualify. But they also said it should not list specific technologies in order to provide flexibility to back an array of advanced projects.

The amendment specifies that the Clean Energy Deployment Administration must adopt a "portfolio investment approach" and ensure no particular technology receives more than 30 percent of the total funding available.

"We don't want one technology to soak all the funding out of this fund," Dingell said.

Barton said he was amenable to the energy bank concept, but he raised several objections to the absence of specific authorized funding levels. "It is totally open-ended in terms of funding," Barton said. "I am not totally opposed to the concept. I just think it needs a little more structure."

Supporters said legislation commonly excludes specific funding levels -- something that could be addressed through White House budget proposals and congressional appropriations. They also noted money that would come in through loan repayments and fees.

"These people are not just going to reach into the till and grab money," Inslee said.

Barton also said there was not enough clarity on what "breakthrough" technologies could be supported by the new energy bank.

In addition to the energy bank, the amendment makes changes to the loan guarantee program that was first authorized in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, including subjecting nuclear-power projects that may receive guarantees to Davis-Bacon prevailing wage requirements, Dingell said.

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