Now that the U.S. Department Energy has awarded the first renewable energy loan guarantee in the last four years, the eager anticipation has begun for other companies waiting for the government's help. But whether the rest of the federal dollars will be given out soon enough to boost the greentech sector is debatable.
The DOE announced last Friday the approval of a $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra, a Fremont, Calif.-basedsolarpanel maker who plans to use the money to build a new factory (see Solyndra Secures $535M in Federal Loan Guarantees). The loan guarantee allows Solyndra to borrow money from the U.S. Treasury.
The DOE touted this award as evidence to support Energy Secretary Steve Chu's promise to act quickly to process loan guarantee applications and carry out other measures to create jobs and boost the failing economy. The agency had faced criticism for being slow in awarding the loan guarantees even before the new administration came into power.
In addition to processing loan guarantee programs, the DOE and other federal agencies are working to make grants or other incentives included in the $787 billion stimulus plan signed by President Obama last month (see Obama Signs Stimulus Package). Carrying out those provisions will take time because the agencies have to create the rules for implementing those programs.
While some of those incentives should start making their way to renewable energy companies later this year, they aren't likely to make a big dent on the companies' fortunes in 2009, said Mark Bachman, a senior equity analyst with Pacific Crest Securities, in a research note Monday.
"Investors should expect neither loans for renewable energy, manufacturing facilities and transmission projects nor matching smart grid and facility construction grants to add materially to 2009 expectations. The lion's share of these funds will be released in 2010 and impact sales and EPS in late 2010 and beyond," Bachman wrote.
The DOE has the authority to award more than $130 billion in loan guarantees as a result of the stimulus plan and other, previous legislation, Bachman noted.
Solyndra applied for the loan back in 2006, when the DOE began implementing a loan guarantee program created by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The DOE received 143 applications for more than $27 billion, and winnowed the list down to 16 finalists in 2007.
Companies such as BrightSource Energy (applied under the name Luz II), Tesla Motors and Beacon Power were on that list of finalists. BrightSource expects to find out if it will receive the loan guarantee around June, said Keely Wachs, a BrightSource spokesman. Wachs declined to say how much the company is seeking, and a DOE spokeswoman said that figure is confidential.
BrightSource, based in Oakland, Calif., plans use the federal loan to build a 100-megawatt power plant and a 200-megawatt power plant in Ivanpah, Calif., Wachs said. The company is set to sell the electricity from those plants to Pacific Gas and Electric. Construction could start during the fourth quarter of this year or the first quarter of 2010 if the loan process goes smoothly and if the company gets the final permits from the California Energy Commission, Wachs said.
"They [the DOE] have been nothing but proactive and willing to work with us," Wachs said.
Tesla, an electric carmaker in San Carlos, Calif., also applied for money under the 2005 legislation. But it has since applied to a different program that offers direct loans. It's hoping to receive about $450 million in loans under the program created by the Sec. 136 of the $25 billion Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program (ATVM), which Congress created as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Congress set aside $7.5 billion last fall for the program, which aims to help car and auto parts manufacturers outfit their factories for producing energy-efficient cars.
The terms of a ATVM loan is more favorable than the one created in 2005, said Rachel Konrad, a Tesla spokeswoman. The DOE hasn't announced any loan approvals from this program, but has said it could do so within weeks, Konrad noted.
"It allows you to amortize certain engineering costs, among other factors. It's a less expensive loan – if you look at all the terms," said Konrad, who declined to disclose how much savings Tesla would get.
Tesla is seeking $350 million to build a factory for its second electric car model called Model S, as well as another $100 million for powertrain manufacturing, Konrad said.
Beacon Power, an energy storage developer in Tyngsboro, Mass., is also waiting for the DOE to decide whether to award a loan guarantee under the 2005 energy act. Beacon Power is hoping to get up to $45 million to build a 20-megawatt storage facility in Stephentown, New York.
The project is estimated to cost $50 million to $60 million, and the DOE program could provide up to 75 percent of the project's cost, said Gene Hunt, a Beacon Power spokesman. The company uses its flywheel technology to store power when it's abundant and to make it available to the grid when needed.
The wait to get the DOE approval hasn't caused a delay because Beacon has had to secured a series of state and local permits, Hunt said. It is still waiting for the electric grid operator in New York to finalize rules for energy storage companies to participate in the power market.
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