Breaking with Romney, Murkowski warns against ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to Solyndra

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is breaking with Mitt Romney and some Capitol Hill Republicans by expressing support for federal green-energy programs, including the one that provided loan help to the now-bankrupt Solyndra. 

Murkowski, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said she supports continuation of the Energy’s Department loan-guarantee program for green energy, and more broadly backs a federal role in boosting market deployment of alternative energy. 

“I do believe there is a role, and perhaps that sets me apart from some of my other colleagues on Capitol Hill,” said Murkowski, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. 

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Murkowski is in line to become chairwoman of the energy panel if Republicans re-take the Senate this fall, and on Tuesday told The Hill she would eye changes to the loan program if she takes the gavel.

“I think we need to do a critical, hard assessment and make sure it is doing that which we had intended,” she said.

But the senator warned against a “knee-jerk” response to Solyndra of seeking to torpedo the entire loan program, which was first authorized in a bipartisan 2005 energy law and modified through the 2009 stimulus law.

“I think we need to get through this period and be able to reflect on what it is that actually comes out of these loan guarantee programs. We are focusing right now on the failures instead of also recognizing that we have done good things for the loan guarantee program,” Murkowski said. “We need to make sure it does what it is supposed to be doing."

Her stance on the federal role in spurring commercial deployment sets her apart from Mitt Romney, President Obama’s GOP rival for the White House, whose platform calls for focusing federal green-energy investments more narrowly on basic research.

Romney and GOP-allied super-PACs have made Solyndra a centerpiece of their attacks on federal green-energy investments and Obama’s wider economic record.

Murkowski has a mend-it-don’t-end-it stance on the loan program, which provided a $535 million loan guarantee in 2009 to Solyndra, the California solar panel company that went belly-up last year.

“Unfortunately what we have seen this past year with some of the failures within the loan guarantee program, it has tainted, I think, that whole program to the point where some are suggesting the plug just needs to be pulled,” Murkowski said in remarks at a forum hosted by George Washington University and the firm Arent Fox.

“I don’t think that is the case, I think we need to make sure that the loan guarantee program operates as Congress had intended." 

The portion of the program supported through the 2009 stimulus law expired last year, but the Energy Department has signaled it plans to move ahead with other loan commitments under its underlying authority stemming from the 2005 law.

Murkowski told The Hill she doesn’t like the stimulus measure that provided federal funding for the so-called credit subsidy costs, which are upfront costs that companies receiving loans pay and help protect taxpayers in the event of a default.

“They have got to have some skin in the game. They have got to have that business plan that works,” she said of companies seeking taxpayer-backed loans. “You are not going to be able to guarantee 100 percent that nothing bad will ever happen, but if you have had to find those resources for that credit subsidy, that is an indicator that you have something behind you.”

Murkowski’s remarks come as Congress is also facing other questions about support for green-energy market deployment. A big one is whether to extend the wind-energy-production tax credit that is slated to expire at the end of the year, an incentive that the industry calls critical for financing new power-generation projects.

She said a critical question is the extent and duration of federal support for deployment, which the Alaska senator says should not be open-ended.

“There has to be kind of a glide path out, and I think that’s important to determine,” Murkowski said.

This post was updated at 3:36 p.m.