A Win-Win for Clean Energy

The nuclear tragedy in Japan and the disturbing upheaval in Libya and the Middle East have dominated the headlines, but it also serves as a haunting reminder that America's own energy security may be in peril unless we accelerate efforts to more fully develop energy alternatives that are reliable, safe and sufficient to meet our future needs.

Achieving energy independence has been a laudable but daunting goal since the first energy crisis in 1979. Fortunately, the Obama administration and Congress have embraced policies intended to spur investment and development in renewable energy projects, but it will take a major effort by the private sector and the support of government at all levels.

The private sector is doing its part. They have invested heavily in new, innovative technologies, assembled the engineering and technical support, arranged the necessary financing, and have been engaged at all levels to secure the Federal and local permitting and ultimately the requisite utility and distribution outlets.

Solar Trust of America (STA) is one of many American companies that are investing millions and utilizing proven technology to achieve California's ambitious goal of 33 percent renewable energy by year 2020. Such goals are unlikely without private-public collaboration.

It is our job to harness the solar potential in areas like STA's thermal solar project site near Blythe in Southeastern California, utilizing our parabolic trough technology that will ultimately produce 1,000 megawatts of bankable electricity that is sufficient to supply 300,000 households with electricity, avoiding over 2,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

Our business model is unique in that it encompasses the entire American-based supply chain that involves engineering and technology specialists, financing through private equity funds, creating new demands for steel and other metals, project development and construction of the facilities, and management and operation of the plants.

Finally, it is a job producer. The first two of our four MW Blythe plants will employ 1,000 union construction jobs, another 7,500 supply chain jobs throughout the country, 100 on-going plant operations and post construction positions and, of course, the residual economic benefits to the local communities.

What is the government's role and how can it partner with STA and other companies to achieve these goals? Congress previously authorized a renewable energy loan guarantee program which is vital to securing the necessary financing to build large scale, sophisticated solar power plants and other renewable projects.

Without it, U. S. companies will be confronted with the sudden reversal of a national policy that two years ago encouraged them to invest in energy alternatives. Our Blythe plant is one of several major solar projects that has advanced through a diligent DOE review process for over a year and has met all the Federal and state permitting requirements.

STA and other solar companies have commenced preliminary site work just as Congress is considering legislation that would all but eliminate the loan guarantee program. Ironically, the House of Representatives passed a spending bill last month that would delete the loan guarantee program for renewable and clean coal technologies but left untouched loan guarantees for building nuclear plants.

This is not a government grant but simply a guarantee to facilitate the financing on loans to bring advanced technology to the market. Every dollar appropriated by Congress to DOE's Loan Guarantee Program spurs $13 dollars in private investments and indeed whatever taxpayer funds are involved are repaid in full with interest.

The DOE loan guarantee is a "win-win" for government and the companies involved and will not only advance the cause of energy independence but will create hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country.

Yet all this is at risk if Congress rolls back the program and put into jeopardy the enormous amounts of private capital already committed and the tens of thousands of sustainable jobs involved in the construction and operation of the plants. Apparently there are no guarantees when the Congress acts in a politically charged atmosphere.

For our nation to fully develop renewable energy, it is clear that neither the private sector nor government can do it alone. It requires a partnership.

As we advance into this new millennium, it is now understood that our raw resources are finite, the planet is fragile, and that energy consumption to sustain growth globally is our greatest challenge. The answer to all this is renewable energy. There are no boundaries or limits to what we can accomplish if we work together.