Energy secretary pledges to keep momentum behind solar power

The comments come after Moniz said last week in his first congressional testimony since being sworn in that he would lead some management changes at the department. He earned plaudits from some House Republicans after that House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Energy and Power hearing.

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The subpanel’s chairman, Rep. Ed WhitfieldEd WhitfieldWhy Republicans took aim at an ethics watchdog What Azerbaijan wants from Israel? Overnight Energy: Green group sues Exxon over climate science MORE (R-Ky.), compared Moniz favorably with Chu, saying the new DOE chief — who served as a DOE undersecretary for former President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonMueller’s probe doesn't end with a bang, but with a whimper Mark Mellman: History’s judgment Congress should massively ramp up funding for the NIH MORE — would be more adept at navigating Congress than Chu, who had no political experience.

Maintaining Chu’s solar agenda, though, isn’t going to win him any points with the GOP.

Currently, solar provides just a small portion of U.S. power. Its share of the nation's power mix has increased in recent years thanks to a mix of state renewable energy targets, an expansion of solar on federal lands and new financing models, among other things.

But President Obama's awarding of federal stimulus dollars to individual solar firms has been the subject of much criticism from the political right.

Republicans used the 2011 bankruptcy of solar panel maker and DOE federal loan guarantee recipient Solyndra to bash Obama’s green energy policies.

The California firm’s flop after receiving a $535 million stimulus loan guarantee proved an albatross for the White House and Chu. Other solar firms that received federal backing later filed for bankruptcy, a point Republicans seized to slam renewable energy subsidies.

Chu said the solar struggles were a result of state-backed Chinese firms flooding the market, which unexpectedly caused solar panel prices to plummet. That made it difficult for U.S. firms to operate, leading many to shut their doors.

But that same dynamic is also what will speed solar’s proliferation, Moniz said.

“Costs have dropped dramatically. ... This is getting very interesting,” he said.