Venture Capitalist to Steer DOE's Energy Loan Program

Last Updated Nov 11, 2009 5:30 PM EST

The Department of Energy has billions in loan guarantees to hand out to alternative energy firms and automakers. But the highly competitive process has been criticized as slow, unmoving even.

What is a government agency to do? Hire a venture capitalist, of course.

The DOE announced Wednesday the appointment of Jonathan Silver, a former managing general partner at Washington D.C.-based venture capitalist firm Core Capital Partners, to head its loan guarantee and green auto programs. Core Capital invests in alternative energy, software, telecommunications and advanced manufacturing technology.

Silver will report directly to DOE Secretary Steven Chu and has been hired to accelerate the application review process for both programs, according to the agency.

This is all part of the DOE's attempts to "streamline" operations. The agency has its hands full managing the slew of applications all vying for billions of dollars of potential loan guarantees.

The DOE's loan guarantee program has $4 billion in appropriations to support $25 billion in loans. The Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan program has $7.5 billion in appropriations to support up to $25 billion in loans. Those credit subsidies are in addition to the more than $50 billion in loan guarantee authority the DOE has to advance nuclear, clean coal, advanced renewables and energy efficiency technologies, the agency said in a statement.

Some loan guarantees have been awarded. Solyndra received a $535 million loan guaranteeto finance construction of its solar photovoltaic panel manufacturing facility. Automakers Nissan, Ford, Tesla, Fisker Automotive and Tenneco have received loan guarantees through the ATVM program.

It's a development worth noting because -- as Earth2tech also mentions-- it's in line with President Obama's apparent love of all things VC. Just two years ago Obama, then a senator and presidential candidate, floated a plan to create a cleantech venture capital fund to help move technologies from the lab to commercialization.

Silver's veins don't run completely with VC blood. There is a hefty amount of inside the beltway government work as well. He served as policy adviser to the secretaries of Commerce, Interior and Treasury departments. Silver was part of the team that negotiated the first clean car agreement with U.S. automakers during that time.

And he won't be the only recently hired venture capitalist prowling the halls over at the DOE or in other government agencies, for that matter. For example, former VC Nick Sinai was hired last summer at the Federal Communications Commission to work on the country's broadband and communications infrastructure with an emphasis on the smart grid.