Renewable Energy Loan Fail, Again?

on November 02, 2011 at 10:40 AM

Just as the White House announced that it would form an independent oversight team to review the overall health of the Department of Energy loan guarantee program, yet another clean energy company that profited from its piggy bank fell this week.

This time the company is not a solar photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing company like Solyndra–which received $535 million loan guarantee from the program and filed for bankruptcy this September– but a Massachusetts-based energy storage company called Beacon Power that designs and manufactures various devices for electric grid reliability and efficiency. Beacon Power was awarded a $43 million guarantee in August 2010 for the construction of a 20 MW flywheel energy storage plant in Stephentown, New York.

But this Sunday, Beacon Power filed for bankruptcy claiming that its revenues were not covering operating costs. The company will be restructured and the flywheel plant will continue operating.

“Our company has been operating at a loss,” Beacon Power President and CEO Bill Capp said in a November 1 statement. “In addition, the current uncertain economic and political climate, loan conditions mandated by the Department of Energy, as well as Beacon’s recent delisting notice from NASDAQ, have severely restricted access to additional investments through the equity markets.”

Flywheel energy storage (FES) works by capturing energy to accelerate a rotor, or flywheel. The system stores the energy as rotational energy, which, operating like a huge battery, can be released to the electricity grid on demand.

The Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing is yet another hit to the loan program that has already been under scrutiny after Solyndra’s bankruptcy filing. But Capp claimed that Beacon Power’s bankruptcy can’t be compared with Solyndra’s. All the company’s employees retained their jobs, with a 20% pay reduction and the flywheel plant will continue operating, unlike Solyndra, which closed operations immediately and laid off all 1,100 employees.

“Despite the need for this restructuring, we believe that our long‐term prospects are favorable. Our goal in taking this action is to minimize job loss, and to continue to find ways to apply our innovative technology in the frequency regulation and energy storage markets,” Capp said.

Indeed, despite the publish backlash to the DOE Loan Program, Energy Secretary Chu has remained quite positive about the program. When head of the program Jonathan Silver stepped down in early October, Chu lauded his efforts saying that under his leadership the program had “demonstrated considerable success, with a broad portfolio of investments that will help American companies compete in the global clean energy market.”

AOL Energy spoke with Silver in May about the program. Listen to the podcast here. He wrote about the importance of the program here.