House panel approves ‘No More Solyndras’ bill

A House Energy and Commerce Committee panel, in a largely party-line vote, approved a GOP plan Wednesday that would curtail the Energy Department’s embattled loan-guarantee program.

The vote marks the latest political jab at White House programs to boost commercialization of alternative energy technologies — attacks that have intensified since last year’s collapse of the taxpayer-backed solar panel company Solyndra.

The bill would prevent the Energy Department from issuing loan guarantees on applications received after the end of 2011, and also sets new restrictions on existing applications and loans.

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The Energy and Power Subcommittee members voted 14-6 to approve the GOP bill, with only Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) breaking ranks with Republicans by voting against it.

“Instead of handing out billions in loan guarantees to selected companies, we can do much more good by removing billions in unnecessary regulatory compliance costs,” said Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), the chairman of the subcommittee, ahead of the vote.

Republicans bashing the program have pointed to Solyndra, which won a $535 million loan guarantee in 2009, and the bankruptcies and headwinds facing some other federally backed green energy companies.

But Democrats and Obama administration officials say problems that some companies have faced should not obscure the successes of the overall loan program.

The subcommittee approved the bill after rejecting several Democratic amendments, including Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-Calif.) that would have stricken the section that prevents loan guarantees for applications received after the end of last year.

Waxman said the cut-off date prevents the Energy Department from leaving the door open to future applications for projects using breakthrough energy technologies — including coal-based and nuclear projects.

“Under this bill, new breakthrough technologies need not apply, even the technologies that Republicans claim to support,” said Waxman, the Energy and Commerce Committee’s top Democrat.

The loan program was first authorized in a bipartisan 2005 energy law, and expanded in the 2009 stimulus, which ultimately provided backing for Solyndra and other solar equipment manufacturing, as well as renewable power-generation projects.

The overall program is authorized to support technologies including renewables, nuclear power, transmission and low-emissions fossil energy such as carbon control technologies projects for coal-fired power.

The Obama administration in 2010 announced a conditional $8.3-billion loan guarantee to help utility giant Southern Company build a pair of reactors now under construction in Georgia.

The Energy Department has authority to issue almost another $24 billion worth of loan guarantees, a figure that does not include the roughly $10 billion in guarantees that has been conditionally committed for a pair of nuclear projects.

The next stop for the bill, which is sponsored by committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), would be a full committee vote, but that has not been scheduled, a spokeswoman said.