The Department of Energy is reviving a vehicle loan program it pledged to retool after criticism it funded flops and wasted taxpayer money.
The department announced Thursday it has reached a conditional, $259 million loan agreement with aluminum manufacturer Alcoa. The money will be used to fund an expansion of an Alcoa, Tenn., facility that manufactures high-strength aluminum used in fuel-efficient cars.
The loan is the first issued from the department's Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Program in four years, and comes a year after Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz had promised to revamp the program.
Moniz said Thursday the program could play an important role by "helping to finance expanded domestic manufacturing of fuel-efficient technologies."
Republicans have been sharply critical of the program and two other Energy Department loan programs after some high profile failures.
Solar company Solyndra filed for bankruptcy in 2011 after receiving a $535 million loan guarantee. Fisker Automative, a manufacturer of electronic cars, received $192 million in department loans before it filed for bankruptcy in 2013. The department said it lost $139 million on the Fisker loan agreement.
Energy officials have maintained the loan programs, funded by the 2009 stimulus, are largely successful and on track to pay the government back with interest in the future. Last year, Moniz said the department would make changes to the vehicle loan program, promising to be more responsive to applicants and include parts and component manufacturers — like Alcoa — in the program.
Alcoa Chairman and CEO Klaus Kleinfeld said the loan program could "encourage a greater shift to aluminum intensive vehicles that are safer, lighter and more fuel-efficient." The company expects the loan to help it create 200 permanent, full-time jobs.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said the loan was good news for his home state.
"More than one-third of Tennessee manufacturing jobs are auto-related, and investment in advanced manufacturing is an important part of how our state will continue to attract good-paying jobs," he said.