The $400 Billion Man Running America’s Clean Energy Transition

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Jigar Shah heads a loan program that was “dormant” under Trump, but now it’s hopping.

This story was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Deep in the confines of the hulking, brutalist headquarters of the US Department of Energy, down one of its long, starkly lit corridors, sits a small, unheralded office that is poised to play a pivotal role in America’s shift away from fossil fuels and help the world stave off disastrous global heating.

The department’s loan programs office was “essentially dormant” under Donald Trump, according to its head, Jigar Shah, but has now come roaring back with a huge war chest to bankroll emerging clean energy projects and technology.

Last year’s vast Inflation Reduction Act grew the previously moribund office’s loan authority to $140 billion, while adding a new program worth another $250 billion in loan guarantees to retool projects that help cut planet-heating emissions. Which means that Shah, a debonair former clean energy entrepreneur and podcast host who matches his suits with pristine Stan Smiths, oversees resources comparable to the GDP of Norway: all to help turbocharge solar, wind, batteries and a host of other climate technologies in the US.

With a newly divided Congress stymieing any new climate legislation in the foreseeable future, Shah has emerged as one of Washington’s most powerful figures in the effort to confront global heating. Shah says such focus on him is “hyperbolic” but the White House is pinning much of its climate agenda on an office that barely had a dozen people when Shah joined in March 2021. It now has more than 200 staffers as it scrambles to distribute billions in loans to projects across the US.

John Podesta, senior adviser to Joe Biden on clean energy, said that the loans office is “essential to the effective implementation” of the administration’s goal to eliminate planet-heating emissions by 2050. “Jigar is laser-focused on working with all levels of government, project sponsors, and affected communities to deliver on that mission and realize results for the American people,” Podesta said.

“There’s a lot of responsibility that’s been put on to this office, clearly Congress gave us those additional resources,” said Shah, who has been busy connecting the newly enriched loans office with all corners of the emerging clean energy economy, not just wind farms and solar operators.

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