DOE rolls out fossil fuel loan guarantees

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The Energy Department announced Tuesday it will soon take applications for up to $8 billion in federal loan guarantees for projects and developing technologies that reduce carbon emissions from extracting and burning fossil fuels.

The draft request related Tuesday for fossil fuel technologies and projects that reduce greenhouse emissions is open for comment until September and is slated for finalization this fall.

The move is part of the climate agenda President Obama revealed last week. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has been busy promoting the loan guarantees as a rebuttal to attacks from industry and mostly GOP lawmakers that the president’s agenda amounts to a “war on coal.”

“The issue is to prepare for the future, a future in which coal is in fact part of the mix,” Moniz said during a Tuesday media call.

"We’re open for business for new ideas to come in,” he added.

The coal industry says the technology electric utilities need to stay under forthcoming greenhouse gas regulations for existing power plants is too expensive.

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Industry contends the loan guarantees are merely window dressing for a cloudy future.

They say costs have remained high despite billions of dollars of federal and private sector backing over the past decade.

The regulations Obama called for last week will either force utilities to choose between shuttering coal plants or adding pricey systems that could push them to unprofitability, industry say.

“The challenge that we’ve always posed to the administration is that the timetable is too aggressive,” Lisa Miller, a spokeswoman with the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, told The Hill last week.

Moniz agreed that the price issue is a concern. He said new technologies have emerged since the Obama administration made its initial investments in 2008, adding that loan guarantees could help bring more of them to commercial scale.

“We are trying to prepare the way for all of these technologies to be marketplace competitors as we go to a low-carbon economy,” Moniz said.

The funds for the loan guarantees have already been appropriated and are open to a range of applications.

They’re also not restricted to coal applications, DOE officials noted.

“We can only respond and act on those projects that submit applications to us,” Peter Davidson, who runs the department’s loan program, stressed in the Tuesday call.

The Department of Energy is seeking designs that improve energy efficiency at power plants, use less carbon and capture and store carbon emissions underground both at facilities and during the extraction process.

The effort covers proposals for the entire life cycle of burning fossil fuels.

That differs from an earlier Obama administration program aimed at accelerating technology for reducing emissions from the source — coal-fired power plants.

The Obama administration has already spent $6 billion on such endeavors, said Melanie Kenderdine, counsel to Moniz. Those include investments in carbon capture and storage — in which emissions are trapped and pumped underground — and carbon capture utilization and storage, which involves collecting emissions to later use in drilling for oil and gas.

— This story was updated at 2:57 p.m.