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Two area Democrats OKed ‘No More Solyndras’ bill

Two Northern California House Democrats sided with House Republicans last week to pass a bill called the “No More Solyndras Act” to phase out the clean energy loan-guarantee program that bankrolled the now-defunct Fremont solar manufacturer.

Reps. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, and Rep. John Garamendi, D-Fairfield, were among the 22 Democrats who joined with 223 House Republicans to vote in favor of H.R. 6213; they were the only California Democrats to do so. On the other side, 157 Democrats and four Republicans opposed the bill, which now is before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, praised the bill as ensuring “that taxpayers are no longer left holding the bag for the administration’s reckless investments. … The Obama administration may still regard the loan program that brought us Solyndra as an ‘enormous success,’ but the American people know better.”

Both McNerney and Garamendi are locked in tough re-election battles: McNerney, with Lodi Republican Ricky Gill; and Garamendi, with Colusa County Supervisor Kim Vann, also a Republican. Also, both voted for President Barack Obama’s economic-stimulus package, which funded the loan-guarantee program among many other things; the program itself began during President George W. Bush’s administration.

“This program, like all government programs, needs to be reviewed and modified to address problems,” Garamendi said in a statement issued by a spokesman Friday. “I will continue my work to strengthen energy independence, create clean energy jobs, and Make It In America.”

McNerney last year had defended the loan-guarantee program.

“Solyndra certainly needs to be accounted for,” he had said in an interview. “But in order to develop new sources of energy we need to do research and development, and a well-supervised loan guarantee is one way to achieve that. I think there is a need for loan guarantees, especially considering what’s happening overseas.

McNerney had said it’s “not a good argument to say that the failure of one company is an indication that the whole industry has a problem. Moreover, oil, gas and coal companies have had government subsidies for 100 years or so, so I think it’s reasonable that renewable resources companies can look to the government for help both in research and in incentives.”

McNerney spokeswoman Lauren Smith on Saturday noted McNerney’s use of the phrase “well-supervised,” and said he made no endorsement of a program that lacks proper oversight and management.

“Congressman McNerney has always taken pride in being an independent voice and representing the people in our community,” she said. “With the people in Contra Costa and San Joaquin Counties struggling in today’s economy, he felt compelled to vote for H.R. 6213 to ensure that their hard-earned tax dollars are spent in a responsible way with proper oversight and accountability. He understands what it’s like to be out of work and worried about money – and how every last dollar matters to most families in our region.”

As the Associated Press reported, Republicans have noted that three of the first five companies to get loan guarantees under the stimulus, including Solyndra, have gone bankrupt. But Democrats say Republicans are ignoring the Energy Department’s successes, including saving nearly 300 million gallons of gasoline a year by supporting such projects as one of the world’s largest wind farms in Oregon, a large solar generation project in California and a major photovoltaic solar power plant in Arizona.

Gill’s campaign is making hay of McNerney’s vote, noting McNerney had called green energy his “signature issue” during his initial run for the House in 2006.

“It turns out his signature was written in disappearing ink,” said Gill campaign consultant Kevin Spillane, accusing McNerney of “suddenly running away from the issue that defined his candidacy and his entire record in Congress — the advocacy of green energy, its supposedly endless economic potential, and the need for costly government incentives to promote its development.”

“Seems like McNerney’s true ‘signature issue’ is saving his political career,” Spillane said.

Smith replied this is “a blatant political attack… There is no credibility there.”

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Campaign touts Obama’s record on manufacturing

The Obama campaign held a conference call Friday to tout how great the president’s policies have been for manufacturing growth and job creation in California, but the call’s headliner never showed up and few California-specific examples were offered.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom was supposed to be on the call, which was meant to mark the third anniversary of the signing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act economic stimulus package. Organizers later said a scheduling problem prevented Newsom from joining in.

Ro Khanna of Fremont, a former Assistant Deputy Secretary in the U.S. Department of Commerce – and the guy we recently noted is raising money like gangbusters for an eventual run in the 15th Congressional District – told reporters on the call that “this president will be known as the manufacturing president.”

While President George W. Bush’s administration presided over the loss of almost five million U.S. manufacturing jobs, almost 400,000 have been added since Obama took office, Khanna said. The president’s initiative to double American exports by 2015 is on track after its first two years, he added, and the president is following through on infrastructure investments, immigration policy for skilled workers, research and development, simplifying permitting processes and streamlining regulations.

Khanna cited Union City’s SimpleWave’s “inshoring” of its kitchen bowl production from China back to the United States – a story my competitors at the Chronicle already had today.

California Democratic Party Vice Chairman Eric Bauman introduced Rob Carpenter as a prime example of a California business owner who’d benefited from the president’s policies. Carpenter said the Small Business Job Act of 2010 allowed a flood of new investment into his e-commerce company, Hollywood-based FriendGiftR, which led to 1500% year-over-year growth. “It’s not time to return to the policies of the past, its time to continue to support the policies of the future,” Carpenter said.

When I asked Carpenter if he was the same guy who had worked in the White House Office of Political Affairs, he acknowledged he was. But Bauman quickly noted that Carpenter’s White House service had been during the Bush Administration, and yet he’s now speaking out on behalf of Obama. After the call, I checked and found that Carpenter is, in fact, registered to vote as a Republican.

Bauman cited a string of non-California-specific stats to bolster his pro-Obama case: 23 straight months of private-sector job creation, the explosive resurgence of the auto industry, and a national supply chain for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner that the president was touting today in Everett, Wash..

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Ice cream & bipartisanship at State of the Union

A pair of business partners from Santa Cruz who started their ice cream shop with a Small Business Administration loan funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act economic stimulus are among those invited to sit with First Lady Michelle Obama at President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address tomorrow night.

From the White House’s advisory:

Business partners Kendra Baker and Zachary Davis had a dream of opening an organic, homemade ice cream shop in Santa Cruz, California, but had trouble finding a lender that would help finance their dream. With the help of a Recovery Act SBA loan of $250,000, Kendra and Zack were able open the doors to The Penny Ice Creamery in August 2010. The SBA Recovery Act funding allowed them to not only open the shop, but also to employ eleven people, purchase American-made equipment, and to hire nearly twenty local businesses to design and renovate the space. Kendra and Zack were so thankful for the financing help, that they posted a video on YouTube thanking the Administration and Members of Congress for their Recovery Act SBA loan. As a result of the video, the Vice President called them in November 2010 to thank them for the video and wish them good luck.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., reports she’ll be sitting tomorrow night with Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., as part of the bipartisan seating initiative – that is, Democrats and Republicans sitting together, rather than “across the aisle,” to present a more united front.

Mica chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, while Boxer chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over transportation and infrastructure. With this shared jurisdiction, they’ll most likely be working together a lot this year.

“We both have responsibility for the transportation bill and water infrastructure legislation,” Boxer said. “We have already started working together and we thought it would be nice to sit together to show that there’s not just cooperation between Republicans and Democrats, but also between the House and Senate.”

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Lawmakers tout $10.2 mil for East Bay trails

House members at Coliseum BART 10-27-10 -- photo by Josh RichmanFour of the East Bay’s five House of Representatives members gathered in Oakland this afternoon to tout a $10.2 million federal grant to improve the region’s pedestrian and bicycle trails and reduce local traffic congestion.

The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded the grant last week through its Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery II (TIGER II) program, bankrolled by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act economic stimulus law. It’ll fund seven projects in Alameda and Contra Costa counties that are part of the East Bay Regional Park District’s Green Transportation Initiative, closing gaps in the nearly 200-mile bicycle and pedestrian trail system that can bring people to BART, Amtrak, bus and other transportation modes. From an overview of the initiative:

Providing low-cost, healthy transportation choices in crowded urban areas will improve the nation’s economic competitiveness by reducing transportation and health-care costs while increasing the mobility of the labor force. Walking and bicycling are the most environmentally sustainable forms of transportation, are energy efficient, and generate no greenhouse gasses or other pollutants. The EBGTI will help achieve these goals while creating hundreds of good-paying American jobs constructing and maintaining portions of the nation’s transportation infrastructure.

One of the seven projects is the East Bay Greenway, a proposed bicycle and pedestrian pathway running under the BART tracks from the Coliseum station to 105th Avenue in Oakland. And so Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Martinez; Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont; and Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, gathered today at the Coliseum BART station. Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, held his own news conference announcing the grant last week.

EBRPD Board President Doug Siden introduced the lawmakers, noting $19 billion worth of projects competed for $600 million in TIGER II funding, and it was the East Bay’s House members’ efforts that helped seal the deal to bring some of the money here.

“We wanted the Secretary of Transportation and our entire federal government to understand the possibilities of what a TIGER II grant would do for the Bay Area,” Lee said – not only a means of getting people out of cars and onto their feet or bicycles on their way to work, but also a source of up to 500 new jobs as the projects get underway.

Garamendi said his call to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood came after those of several of his colleagues. “He said, ‘My God, how many represent this area?’ I said, ‘Enough to get you to do this.’”

Miller said the sell was made somewhat easier by the park district’s reputation as “one of the most respected park agencies in the world.”

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$3.6 million for East Bay energy research

A pair of East Bay energy research projects will get almost $3.6 million from the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), the U.S. Department of Energy announced today.

These two were among 11 California-based projects selected to receive $22 million, in turn part $92 million offered to 43 projects nationwide under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act economic stimulus.

“These innovative ideas will play a critical role in our energy security and economic growth,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said in a news release. “It is now more important than ever to invest in a new, clean energy economy.”

flow_batteryLawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is getting $1,592,730 to develop a new flow-battery system for energy storage on the electric grid. Flow batteries pump reactive chemicals through the battery cell when electricity is needed; this project’s battery will use hydrogen and bromine as its active materials. Flow batteries have existed for decades, but have been plagued by high costs, short lifetimes, and safety concerns; LBNL hopes to refine the model.

And Primus Power of Alameda is receiving $2 million to develop new durable, inexpensive metal electrodes for flow batteries, which are often limited by their electrodes’ high cost and poor durability. Primus hopes to leverage processes developed for other chemical industries to develop novel, low-cost metallic flow battery electrodes, aiming for a five-fold decrease in costs and a doubling of the energy storage system’s power density.

“The country that leads the way in clean energy is the country that is going to lead the world,” U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said in the Energy Department’s news release. “California is already emerging as a hub of the clean energy industry and the grants announced today will move us further in that direction.”

Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, in whose district Primus Power lies, issued his own statement saying “the Recovery Act continues to pay dividends for our community. This money will fund the development of energy storage units that can make our power grid more efficient and are better suited to use power generated from renewable sources. This is more proof that the East Bay is a hub for green manufacturing jobs.”

The Energy Department had announced in November that Primus Power was getting $14 million for a wind energy “farm” that will store energy for the Modesto Irrigation District, replacing a planned fossil fuel plant; that project’s total cost is $46.7 million.

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Staffers preview Obama’s Fremont speech

White House staffers held a teleconference with reporters today to preview what President Barack Obama will say about jobs and the economy at a Fremont solar-panel manufacturing company tomorrow.

Air Force One is due to touch down at San Francisco International Airport in a few hours, and the President will be headed into San Francisco for a pair of pricey fundraisers to benefit the re-election campaign of U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Tomorrow morning he’ll be at Solyndra Inc., which received a $535 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy – funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Obama Administration’s economic stimulus package – to build a big new manufacturing plant just up the road from its existing facility.

Jared Bernstein, chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden, told reporters today “we’re excited about what Solyndra is doing and about the president’s trip” as a chance to “get out of the beltway bubble” and see, hear and feel what’s going on in the economy, good and bad.

The Recovery Act has created or saved 2.5 million jobs, Bernstein said, but that’s not enough – the nation needs far more robust job growth. He cited the President’s recent comment that “the only economic news most people want to hear is ‘You’re hired.’ ”

Solyndra is not only about new jobs today, but also “about new industries tomorrow,” Bernstein said – a clean-energy industry that will protect the environment while reducing dependency on foreign oil. With the economy still shaky, unemployment still to high and credit still hard to get, government must continue to provide incentives for such progress, he said.

Matt Rogers, Senior Advisor to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, said tomorrow’s event is “a good opportunity to reflect on where we’ve come with the Recovery act, and where we’re headed.”

Solyndra is expected to produce 230 megawatts worth of solar panels per year, with the first product rolling off its new assembly line sometime this fall, Rogers said. This is an example of the United States re-establishing its leadership in clean energy high-tech manufacturing, an underpinning of the economy just as important as the innovation that makes it possible.

And “the good news will be compounded if you look just down the street from Solyndra,” he added, where Tesla and Toyota are partnering to produce electric vehicles at the recently-closed New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) plant. A staffer on today’s call couldn’t immediately say whether Obama will meet tomorrow with any Tesla or NUMMI-related officials.

Meanwhile, Republicans decried the President’s arrival for the San Francisco fundraisers. Read it, after the jump…
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