How a Department of Energy Loan Officer Helps Chinese Solar Companies

Jigar Shah, Director of the Loans Program Office at the Department of Energy, once created the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy, a nonprofit that mounted an aggressive campaign to kill U.S. tariffs on Chinese solar panels.  While it is unclear what role he had in convincing the Biden Administration to tread lightly on China solar imports, Shah’s creation of an advocacy group that helps Chinese multinationals gain unfettered access to the U.S. serves as an example of what U.S. manufacturers are up against.

Shah left an investment fund he created called Generate Capital in 2021 to join the DoE. Generate Capital invests in renewable energy or low-polluting technologies and infrastructure. The company is a big promoter of “net zero”, a United Nations pledge by some companies to go neutral carbon emissions by 2050. This linear focus on net zero is arguably the No. 1 reason why many in Congress, and surely in the White House, have opted to put the two-year pause on tariffs against Chinese multinational solar companies found by the Commerce Department to have circumvented import duties.

In 2018, Generate Capital partnered with BYD Motors in California to fund the manufacturing of electric buses. Shah was the President of the company at the time. BYD owns BYD Solar, which was found by Commerce to be one of four Chinese solar companies in breach of U.S. trade laws.

In June 2022, when Shah was already at the DoE, his former company partnered with Pine Gate Renewables with $500 million in financing. Pine Gate is a large-scale utility builder for solar. It is unclear where their solar panels are made.

This sector is the No. 1 importer of Chinese solar panels, often arguing that the U.S. does not have the capacity to supply big utility projects with the solar it needs to deploy projects on time.

Pine Gate supported the White House solar emergency declaration last June. That emergency declaration was voted down by the House of Representatives by a mostly Republican Congress, though some Democrats also voted to overturn that rule. The vote now heads to the Senate this evening where at least three key Senators, including Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) have said they will vote to overturn the June 6, 2022 declaration. Biden promised to veto it.

Shah is big on renewable energy advocacy.

He was the founding CEO of the Carbon War Room, a global project founded by Sir Richard Branson and his company Virgin Unite to help businesses move to renewable energy. While the Carbon War Room does not have any obvious links to Chinese solar companies, it does have projects in China designed to push that country to carbon neutrality by 2030, a target that will never be met given China’s recent build-out of new coal-fired power plants.

For this reason, it is not surprising that Shang has argued publicly that American consumers could not afford solar panels without China products. He has stressed the need for the two nations to “work together to solve our planet’s energy and environmental crisis.” He has also accused solar tariff proponents of mounting a baseless “anti-China crusade.”

Shah’s role as loan officer means he has power to distribute new money allotted by the Inflation Reduction Act and is seen as someone who would push back against singling out Chinese clean energy companies in any way.

Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy’s website is no longer live, but it once claimed that the Shah-led advocacy group represented “the largest companies in the U.S. solar industry” and worked to protect “the affordability of solar energy and the American workforce” – a workforce that primarily focuses on utility project engineers like Pine Gate, and solar installers.

The online member list included Jigar Shah’s own private consultancy, installers, and project developers, and four Chinese manufacturers – Suntech Power, Canadian Solar, Trina Solar, and Yingli Green Energy. Free Beacon said that Shah “partnered” with three of those companies, but it is unclear if he partnered with them to start the Coalition, or if they just became members.

The companies relied on “direct government support” to fund their operations, Reuters reported in 2013, and Suntech founder Shi Zhengrong in a 2010 speech credited two senior CCP officials for the company’s rise, the Free Beacon reported in January. “Suntech is a seed sewn by the Communist Party,” Shi reportedly said.

When Shah joined the DoEin 2021, the loan department had roughly $44 billion, according to the January Free Beacon article. The Inflation Reduction Act added to that and it is now nearly $400 billion at Shah’s disposal.

Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN), a member of the House Select Committee on the CCP told the Free Beacon he expects a lot of those subsidized loans to help fund solar imports from Chinese companies.

A new poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of CPA found that an overwhelming majority of likely voters (75%) support requiring the core components that make up solar panels to be manufactured in the United States to satisfy the IRA’s 10% domestic content bonus available to solar project developers that use a minimum level of U.S.-manufactured solar equipment in their projects. Only 8% of likely voters are opposed.

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