Energy Department approves $1 billion in solar energy loan guarantees

The Energy Department announced Wednesday that is has finalized more than $1 billion in loan guarantees for two separate solar energy projects.

The decision comes several weeks after Solyndra, a California-based solar manufacturer that received a $535 million loan guarantee from the Obama administration in 2009, filed for bankruptcy and laid off 1,100 workers, setting off a firestorm in Washington.

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DOE announced a $737 million loan guarantee to help finance construction of the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project, a 110-megawatt solar-power-generating facility in Nye County, Nev. The project is sponsored by Tonopah Solar, a subsidiary of California-based SolarReserve.

The Energy Department said the project will result in 600 construction jobs and 45 permanent jobs.

“If we want to be a player in the global clean energy race, we must continue to invest in innovative technologies that enable commercial-scale deployment of clean, renewable power like solar,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a news release. “Solar generation facilities, like the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project, help supply energy to local utilities and create hundreds of good, American clean energy jobs.”

The Crescent Dunes facility will generate power using concentrated solar power technology, in which a series of mirrors direct sunlight onto a receiver at the center of the plant.

The Energy Department also announced that it had finalized a separate $337 million loan guarantee to Sempra Energy for a 150-megawatt photovoltaic solar-generation project in Arizona.

The project will result in 300 construction jobs, DOE said.

The Solyndra loan guarantee, unlike the two announced Wednesday, was used for a solar panel manufacturing facility.

The decision to finalize the loan guarantees comes just days before the Energy Department’s advanced energy loan-guarantee program, which was funded under the 2009 stimulus law, expires. The department is hoping to make a final decision on about 10 other projects by Sept. 30.

Republicans in Congress have raised concerns that the Energy Department will be forced to rush the final review of the projects because of the tight deadline. But top Energy Department officials said they will not approve any projects without subjecting them to detailed analysis.

The Solyndra controversy has cast a shadow over the Energy Department’s loan-guarantee program, which provides financing for renewable energy, advanced biofuels and electric power transmission projects.

Republicans allege that the administration missed a series of warning signs that hinted at Solyndra’s financial troubles.

Republicans on both the House Oversight and Government Reform and Energy and Commerce committees have launched investigations into the loan-guarantee program as a result of the Solyndra bankruptcy.

The Justice Department and other federal agencies are also investigating Solyndra.

— This story was posted at 10:04 a.m. and last updated at 1:17 p.m.