Feb 2 • 50M

Volts podcast: using DOE loan guarantees to accelerate clean energy, with Jigar Shah

He's remaking the Loan Programs Office.

David Roberts
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Volts is a podcast about leaving fossil fuels behind. I've been reporting on and explaining clean-energy topics for almost 20 years, and I love talking to politicians, analysts, innovators, and activists about the latest progress in the world's most important fight. (Volts is entirely subscriber-supported. Sign up!)
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Back in 2010, the Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office (LPO) briefly became what kids these days call the main character, the focus of a storm of controversy and media attention, thanks to the bankruptcy of Solyndra, a solar company that received the very first loan guarantee under Obama’s Recovery Act and then promptly gone bankrupt.

Despite that wildly overhyped controversy, the LPO did reasonably well under Obama. It ultimately turned a profit for the government and was arguably crucial to the explosive subsequent growth in markets for utility-scale solar and wind.

Under Trump, the LPO basically went dormant, doing little beyond shoveling money into the ill-fated Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia. Now the LPO is being revived, reformed, and reinvigorated by new director Jigar Shah.

Jigar Shah (DOE)
Jigar Shah (DOE)

Shah has a long history on the business side of clean energy — he was the co-founder and president of Generate Capital and before that founded “no money down” solar pioneer SunEdison — but he’s perhaps best known to energy nerds as the co-host of the late, lamented podcast The Energy Gang. (The team behind The Energy Gang now has a new show: The Carbon Copy.)

He wants to streamline the process of getting loan guarantees from LPO and rethink how the office approaches risk. And he’s got about $40 billion to work with, more if Build Back Better passes. (For the best account of Shah’s new approach, read these two Canary pieces — one, two — from Jeff St. John.)

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Under Shah’s leadership, the LPO has been doing due diligence on the hundreds of applications that have flooded in since the office reopened for business. In December, it issued its first new conditional commitment for a loan guarantee, to a plant in Nebraska that will transform methane into hydrogen and carbon black. Many more loan guarantees are in the pipeline.

I’ve been looking forward to chatting with Shah about how the office is reforming under Biden, how to think about risk and communicate it to the public, and the kinds of clean-energy technologies that have him excited these days.