WASHINGTON — The Energy Department on Friday approved four more solar energy loan guarantees worth nearly $5 billion, hours before a controversial loan program was set to expire.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the department completed deals on four separate projects, including two that were sold late this week by Arizona-based First Solar Inc., a major solar manufacturer that had been seeking three federal loan guarantees for projects in California. The sales were announced Friday along with the loan guarantees.
The loans were approved under the same program that paid for a $528 million loan to Solyndra Inc., a now-bankrupt solar panel maker that has become a symbol for critics of the Obama administration’s green energy program.
Two other solar loan guarantees worth about $1.1 billion were announced earlier this week, as the Obama administration pushes forward with the loan program despite pleas from GOP critics to halt it to avoid another Solyndra-like debacle.
Chu said the solar projects, which could cost taxpayers as much as $6 billion, should help the United States as it competes with China and other countries to develop renewable energy.
“To win the clean energy race, we must invest in projects like this that fund jobs and increase the generation of clean, renewable power in the U.S.,” Chu said in a prepared statement. “Deployment of utility-scale solar power will help bring down the cost of solar and strengthen our position as a global clean energy leader.”
The deals announced Friday include a $1.5 billion loan guarantee to a team of investors that bought a planned 550-megawatt solar farm on federal land in Southern California from First Solar, as well as $646 million to Illinois-based Exelon Corp. for a 230-megawatt solar plant near Los Angeles. Exelon bought the project from First Solar this week.
A third project, worth $1.2 billion, will help San Jose-based SunPower Corp. build a 250-megawatt solar plant in California, while $1.4 billion will go San Francisco-based Prologis Inc. to support installation of about 750 solar rooftop panels in 28 states.
The loan program expired on Friday.