Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D.- New Mexico, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, told ABC News the administration received dozens of applications, but then made little progress in getting them processed. So far, less than 3 percent of the money set aside for loan guarantees has actually been formally assigned to an actual renewable energy initiative.
As a result, he said, the $6 billion pot of money dedicated to the program began to look attractive to everyone in Congress who had a program that needed money.
"Whenever someone is looking to pay for something, they see that money sitting there and it's a very tempting target," Sen. Bingaman said.
And that's precisely what happened last year when the president had a sudden and urgent need to find funding for the unexpectedly popular Cash for Clunkers program. In dire need of a funding source, the administration and Congress decided to divert $2 billion to pay for the popular vehicle exchange incentives. Then, when the administration faced pressure to pay for an aid package for state teachers, they dipped in again for another $1.5 billion. In both cases Obama pledged to restore the renewable energy funds. But, Sen. Bingaman said, none of the money has been restored.
"I think [President Obama] is very sincere in his commitment to expand our use of renewable energy," Sen. Bingaman said. "But I don't think the concrete programs that will help accomplish that are being processed by the congress and the administration as quickly as they should be."
Tim Newell, a senior advisor for the private equity firm US Renewables Group, told ABC News he believes some of the greatest challenges to this particular program have come "from within the administration itself, and indeed from within the White House."
While Congress played a role in redirecting billions of dollars in energy money, Newell blames the administration for letting it happen. That happened "with White House support, if not their urging," he said. David Hamilton, directof of the Sierra Club's global warming and energy programs, agreed, saying the cuts served as "another piece of evidence that the U.S. is not serious about pursuing the renewable energy industry."
Jonathan Silver, who has overseen the loan program at the Department of Energy (DOE), defended the administration, saying the money was needed for other "critical issues." DOE has had to "scale the program" to account for the current economic crisis, he said, but added that "we have enough capital currently for what is in our pipeline."
Silver was vigorous in defending DOE's record pointing out the progress made since the Obama administration took office. The original loan guarantee program was passed in 2005, but no deals were done until the middle of 2009. Since that time, 22 conditional commitments, totaling over $2 billion. The day he spoke to ABC News, Silver's program voted to approve the Shepherd's Flat transaction, which will set up the world's largest wind farm in Oregon.
Newell conceded that Silver has made progress. "We have seen a huge change for the positive in the program" since Energy Secretary Steven Chu brought Silver in, Newell said. His tenure has seen "approval times go down, transparency go up."