Greenwire (subs. req’d) reports:
The Energy Department has created a “special organization” to distribute $40 billion contained in the economic stimulus package for energy projects, Secretary Steven Chu said today.
“It’s a challenge and something we take very seriously: how to spend that money wisely but also quickly,” Chu told reporters after speaking at DOE’s National Electricity Delivery Forum in Washington. Chu said he has assembled a team to start streamlining ways of delivering the cash. “We are looking at everything,” he said.
Leading the advisory team is Matt Rogers, director at McKinsey & Co.’s San Francisco office, Chu said. Rogers consults in many fields, including electric power, oil and gas, and private equity, as well as strategic transformations for industrial companies. Rogers is also a leader of McKinsey’s North American Petroleum Practice.
This is a very encouraging sign that the Administration takes this seriously, since they have a staggering amoung of clean tech to deploy (see “Progressives, Obama keep promise to jumpstart clean energy, economy“). The story continues:
Other members of President Obama’s Cabinet are also preparing to spend money quickly, Chu said. Carol Browner, who oversees White House efforts on energy and the environment, and leaders of the Interior and Agriculture departments, U.S. EPA and the Council on Environmental Quality have been discussing how to align federal regulatory requirements for making projects “shovel-ready,” Chu said.
Several lawmakers and industry officials have expressed concern about DOE’s ability to distribute the money, given its historic inefficiency and currently empty undersecretary and assistant secretary posts. Most notably, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has lamented DOE’s inability to distribute loan guarantees for advanced clean energy technology created in the 2005 energy policy law and hinted he is considering snatching the program from DOE.
In response to such criticisms, Chu said DOE’s goal is to “start cutting checks” for the first loan guarantees by the end of April or beginning of May. He said he has reduced the loan-guarantee paperwork from 1,000 pages to about 50. “You don’t need 1,000 pages to show this is a suitable loan,” he said.
DOE is also concentrating on billions for supporting electricity transmission and distribution projects, which are a “key part of the economic recovery package,” Chu said.
Several provisions of the stimulus bill signed by Obama yesterday increase funding for the electric grid, including $6 billion in loan-guarantee authority — which is also available for renewable energy and advanced biofuel projects, $6.5 billion for the Bonneville Power Authority and the Western Area Power Administration, and $4.5 billion in matching grants for making the grid “smarter.”
Many of these investments can start in a matter of months, Chu said.
There are already Bonneville Power Authority transmission projects that have complete environmental assessments and could be creating jobs soon in the Pacific Northwest, Chu said. For other projects, he said he is working with EPA and Interior on speeding up regulatory procedures for transmission projects without “undermining” environmental and other federal reviews.
Chu said he has also started speaking to state officials to prepare them for $5 billion in weatherization funds — although that will be distributed largely along existing formulas.
Dan Reicher, director of climate change and energy initiatives at Google Inc. and a former DOE assistant secretary, said the department is still going to need a lot of help.
“The Energy Department has a mixed track record of moving money quickly and effectively,” Reicher told the forum. “We all need to help DOE. It’s basically going to take this whole room to help DOE to do this well.”