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Clean Energy Investment 'Bank' Has Bipartisan Support, But No Money

Those championing a green investment agency are hopeful that senators will rearrange enough dollars in the DOE budget, or elsewhere, to make it happen

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

May 11, 2011
Sen. Jeff Bingaman

WASHINGTON—Two top senators are again toying with the fancy of enhancing the Department of Energy's ability to finance clean energy projects.

Those in the business are certainly eager to embrace the resurrection of what is called the Clean Energy Deployment Administration (CEDA).

However, they're jittery that it will emerge as a piece of "all hat and no cattle" legislation if the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee can't definitively map out where to find an estimated $10 billion in upfront costs.

Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman is talking about having a piece of legislation — likely without accommodations for offsetting the cost — prepared this month. It's possible that the committee could mark it up and vote on it within the next few weeks.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the committee's ranking Republican, is on board with the New Mexico Democrat’s measure. But she's made it clear that the program's cost would have to be balanced via spending reductions elsewhere in the federal budget.

Expectations are that the Senate, where the Democratic caucus has a 53-47 majority, would follow the committee's lead and be receptive to the CEDA measure. But the Republican-dominated House is a different story.

Numerous times this year, Bingaman has told reporters that bit-by-bit is the only practical approach to molding energy legislation that the House GOP majority will not smack down.

Innovators affiliated with the Clean Economy Network would prefer that Congress broach a comprehensive energy package but they are well aware that the term "comprehensive" is generally shunned on Capitol Hill these days.

"It's a reflection of the sign of the times," Tim Greeff, the network's policy director, told SolveClimate News in an interview. "But that being said, a good idea is a good idea. And the Clean Energy Deployment Administration is a good idea, especially right now when there are signs the economy is recovering."

A Brief History

Retired New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici, a Republican and former committee chairman, actually initiated the concept of CEDA several years ago.

Backing for a DOE-connected government entity to provide financial support through loans, loan guarantees, and other mechanisms to promote deployment of clean energy technologies also gained legs in the 111th Congress.

For instance, it was included in the now-maligned American Clean Energy and Security Act that Reps. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Henry Waxman of California guided through a Democratic-led House in 2009.

CEDA also drew support from Bingaman and Murkowski as part of the overarching American Clean Energy Leadership Act. The bipartisan measure cleared the energy committee but never gained traction in the Senate.

Nuts and Bolts

While this country has made promising advances with renewable energy, highly fuel-efficient and electric drive vehicles, smart grid technology and ultra-efficient lighting and appliances, Bingaman explained during a May 3 committee hearing focused on CEDA, their transition to the commercial marketplace has been frustratingly slow.

At the same hearing, Murkowski pointed out that CEDA would address the persistent lack of available financing. A distinct advantage, she added, is that the program would allow for more stable and consistent funding to back private lending for clean energy projects, instead of only offering one-time payments in the form of grants or tax credits.

"Despite the high initial costs of creating a Clean Energy Deployment Administration," Murkowski said, "I continue to believe that it’s a smarter, more efficient way for the federal government to promote clean energy technologies."

Those insights resonate with Greeff's organization, which has offices in Washington and San Francisco. The educational and advocacy organization was formed in March 2009 to shape a new economy based on clean technology and innovation.

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The House Energy Action Team

The House Energy Action Team is tasked with promoting what they call common-sense energy solutions."

HEAT - an apt acronym for those who lack the common sense to promote clean energy, rather than clinging to the fantasy that we can drill our way to energy independence with only 3% of world oil reserves. And apt because their path will indeed lead to more HEAT, wordwide.

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