Energy Department Weighs Loan to Wind Farm Project
January 25, 2013, 6:47 p.m. ET
By JENNIFER LEVITZ And RYAN TRACY
The U.S. Department of Energy is again considering a loan to Cape Wind, the planned Massachusetts offshore wind farm whose request for federal aid was shelved in 2011.
In a sign of fresh activity in the Obama administration's loan program to jumpstart renewable-energy production, despite the fallout from government loans to failed solar-panel company Solyndra LLC, Cape Wind's application for a government loan is again under "active review," said a representative for Cape Wind developer Energy Management Inc. of Boston.
Cape Wind, which would be the U.S.'s first offshore wind farm, had previously applied to the federal government for a nearly $2 billion guaranteed loan, but is now being considered for a "considerably" smaller loan, with a decision possible by spring, according to a person familiar with the loan application. The Department of Energy currently has the authority to back about $1.5 billion in renewable-energy loans.
The federal financing would be an important development for Cape Wind, which for a decade has been trying to build a 468-megawatt, 130-turbine wind farm in Nantucket Sound, off the coast of Cape Cod—provoking an all-encompassing political and environmental debate in the process. The company is also working with BarclaysBARC.LN +0.23% PLC to secure private funding and expects to begin construction by the end of the year.
"The Department of Energy loan program was created with bipartisan support to promote energy projects that will reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, create jobs, and help launch new clean-energy industries in America—Cape Wind does all three," Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers said Friday.
Republicans have attacked the Department of Energy loan program as an example of wasted taxpayer dollars. Solyndra filed for bankruptcy protection in 2011, after receiving about $528 million in U.S. government loans. The Obama administration has pointed to other successful loans in the program. President Barack Obama prominently addressed climate change and the need for the U.S. to lead a "path towards sustainable energy sources" in his second inaugural address last week.
On Friday, Republican U.S. Reps. Paul Broun and James Lankford signed a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu expressing concern "that the Department is moving forward with this loan guarantee despite the extensive controversy surrounding departmental management and decision-making associated with this program."
Mr. Broun, of Georgia, and Mr. Lankford, of Oklahoma, chair separate House subcommittees that oversee the department.
Department of Energy spokesman Bill Gibbons said the more than 30 projects in the department's loan portfolio "have helped us double America's renewable energy capacity in the last four years and are generating $55 billion in economic investment."
"As we review applications for the remaining funding, we want to continue to support cutting-edge clean-energy technologies that will help America win the global race for the jobs of the future," he said.
In May 2011, the Department of Energy told Cape Wind its loan request was being put on hold, "not terminated," while federal loans were distributed to projects that were more ready to proceed. Since then, the Federal Aviation Administration has given its approval to the wind farm; Cape Wind said the approval meant it had received all required regulatory permits to proceed. Still, several opponents have pending lawsuits in federal court, citing environmental, safety, and historical concerns.
Massachusetts political leaders, including Sen. John Kerry and Gov. Deval Patrick, have been vocal supporters of Cape Wind, saying the project would bring jobs and help the nation achieve energy-independence goals. Opponents have included Cape Cod homeowners, from the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy to Republican donor and energy businessman William Koch.