Farewell to Two Leaders of the Green Stimulus

Now that the Department of Energy is getting to the end of doling out the billions of dollars in funds from the stimulus package for clean power and energy efficiency, it’s losing some of the key people that were in charge of overseeing the flow of those funds. Matt Rogers, the DOE’s Senior Advisor and former McKinsey Partner, had always maintained that he would leave after the allocation of the funds, and is indeed leaving shortly, reports The Hill. But, more surprisingly, the Undersecretary for Energy, Kristina Johnson, will also be leaving and returning to academic life, says The Hill.

The last year and a half were no doubt a whirlwind for the two high-level DOE execs, who joined the DOE in 2009, advised DOE Secretary Steven Chu on energy policy and green stimulus funds, and helped Chu entirely remake the DOE under the Obama administration. Rogers and Chu transformed the methods and pace at which the DOE selects and allocates funding, from an utterly slow-moving group (for example the DOE let loan guarantees hang in limbo for years) to an institution that moved at a record-breaking pace.

While the DOE commonly took two years to select companies and three years to allocate funds to companies before Chu stepped in, Rogers and Chu handed out the first set of competitive awards from the stimulus funds in just 168 days. “The Secretary is an impatient guy,” Rogers quipped back in January during a speech.

With some $36 billion in stimulus funds to hand out for next-gen energy tech to some 7,000 recipients, the stimulus package also represented an unheard-of boost for the DOE’s budget. Startups from electric vehicle makers Tesla (s TSLA) and Fisker, to solar thermal company BrightSource have won loans, loan guarantees and grants that have been crucial to their businesses. The federal government on average spends about $5 billion annually on energy technology research, and many (like John Doerr and Bill Gates) are calling for a continued boost to the DOE annual budget after the stimulus funds have been tapped.

Johnson, who was previously the provost of Johns Hopkins University, and before that dean of Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering, spoke at an event in Silicon Valley in July and mentioned potentially one day returning to academia as well as to the private sector. Johnson will be replaced by Cathy Zoi, the Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, who also previously ran Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection. Johnson will be speaking at the Gridwise Forum this week, and we’ll be reporting on her talk.

While Rogers and Johnson are handing off the baton to the next leaders, the full affects of the green stimulus have yet to be revealed. The deadline to allocate most of the funding is September 30, and Vice President Joe Biden released a report in late August that said the green stimulus has created “tens of thousands of new jobs.” However some of the other metrics in the report seemed questionable.

Right before Biden released the stimulus metrics report, the Inspector General Gregory Friedman also issued a report that found that even though the DOE had increased its staff to try to get all of the stimulus funds out of the door, at that time, there was a good chunk of the funds still left to be allocated (if they aren’t handed out, they dry up).

No doubt, trying to remake the DOE to spend so much money smartly in a year and a half, will lead to a certain amount of errors. For example, I’m not sure the DOE loan to Solyndra was a good choice, and the weatherization funds seemed destined to face misspending given their trickle-down nature. The greentech VC has also seemed to wield an unusual amount of power in the process. But overall, it seems like Johnson and Rogers did a solid job with the constraints — cheers to them.

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Image courtesy of humbertomoreno flickr creative commons.