A private trade association founded by the Biden administration’s energy loan czar Jigar Shah has become a gatekeeper for companies seeking billions of dollars in financing from Shah’s office.
The Cleantech Leaders Roundtable has seen a surge in its influence and revenue since its former president, Shah, was tapped to lead the powerful $400 billion Department of Energy Loan Programs Office (LPO) in 2021.
The group, which didn’t have a website until three years ago, now regularly hosts sold-out receptions featuring Shah for its paying members across the country. Last week, the DOE Loans Program Office and Cleantech Leaders co-hosted an invitation-only conference in Washington, D.C., for companies looking for loans—and Cleantech Leaders was in charge of the invite list and ticket sales.
During this time, companies connected to the trade association have raked in cash from Shah’s office. Last week, the Loan Programs Office approved a $3 billion loan to a solar company led by Cleantech Leaders’s board director. The group’s corporate sponsors have also pulled in funding.
The cozy relationship between Shah and Cleantech Leaders is raising questions about whether the organization’s members are getting favorable treatment in the loan process.
"It appears as if the Department of Energy has allowed a dark money climate group to be the gatekeepers of taxpayer dollars," said Caitlin Sutherland, director of the Americans for Public Trust, an ethics watchdog group. "Friends, coworkers, and corporate allies should not be given preferential financial treatment when seeking access to government programs."
A DOE spokeswoman said Cleantech Leaders "invited the Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office to cohost Deploy23," the conference last week, but called it a "nonfinancial partnership and not a government-led event."
The DOE said Cleantech Leaders was in charge of the guest list and sponsors for the event. The official declined to comment on how much tickets cost, but said the conference was "made possible through ticket sales and event sponsorships."
But the group’s tight control of the invitation list for a government co-hosted conference irked some energy industry insiders. One said it looked like a "pay-to-play scheme" and called it a "slap in the face to all the companies following the rules."
Cleantech Leaders did not respond to a request for comment.
Shah, a tech entrepreneur who is well-connected in the green energy industry, founded Cleantech Leaders Roundtable in 2017 as a networking hub for executives. Shah served as president of the group until the Biden administration appointed him to lead the Loan Programs Office in early 2021.
A few months before Shah’s departure from Cleantech Leaders, he showed signs of wanting to expand the organization, which had been operating without a full-time staff. Days before the 2020 presidential election, the group registered a website. Shah also recruited Andrea Luecke, a climate activist, to serve as the group’s first full-time executive director when he left.
After joining the administration, Shah stayed closely involved with Cleantech Leaders. Over the past two years, he has been a featured guest speaker for at least 10 of the organization’s closed-door events and receptions, which cost up to $250-a-person to attend.
Cleantech Leaders’s revenue more than tripled in the year after Shah left, according to its tax disclosure records. For an annual membership fee—up to $7,500-a-year for corporate executives—the group offers members "insider access to an exclusive private community of high-level cleantech/climatech peers."
Agency appointees often have prior relationships with industry groups and companies. But a former Department of Energy official told the Washington Free Beacon that Shah’s regular participation in Cleantech Leaders Roundtable events seemed "excessive."
"That could lead someone to believe that this [group] is the way to get in front of Shah, to get in front of a senior official who oversees billions of dollars in government investments," said the former official.
Under Shah’s leadership, the LPO has become a powerhouse within the Department of Energy. The office, which was best known for a 2011 scandal involving a $500 million loan to the failed green energy company Solyndra, operated on a small budget for years.
Shah significantly expanded the staff, and the office now controls a $400 billion loan budget authorized by the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act—a fact that has been advertised by Cleantech Leaders.
"Hundreds of Billions $$$$$$," wrote Cleantech Leaders’s executive director in a LinkedIn post about Loan Programs Office funding last year. "We love Jigar Shah for that and also for co-founding the Cleantech Leaders Roundtable."
Although Cleantech Leaders doesn’t publish its membership roster, its leadership appears to have benefited from that gold rush. Shah’s office recently approved a $3 billion loan guarantee to Sunnova, a solar company where Cleantech Leaders’s board chair Anne Slaughter Andrew also sits on the board.
Cleantech Leaders’s growing influence was on full display last week, when its sister arm, the Cleantech Leaders Climate Forum, co-hosted a conference with the Loan Programs Office in Washington, D.C., for energy executives seeking funding from the agency. The paid ticketed event, which was advertised as "exclusive" and "invitation only," included discussion panels with DOE officials on topics such as "Show Me the Money: DOE's BIL/IRA Funding Opportunities Rundown."
The DOE told the Free Beacon that it co-hosted the event, but the guest list and ticket sales for the conference were controlled by the Cleantech Leaders Climate Forum. That group describes itself as the 501(c)(3) "sister" arm of the Cleantech Leaders Roundtable and shares the same leadership. The Cleantech Leaders Climate Forum was first incorporated in July, less than three months before the conference.
Several of the conference’s financial sponsors received or are seeking major loans from Shah’s department. KorePower secured an $850 million conditional commitment from the LPO in June, and Novonix recently said it is in advanced talks for financing from the office.
A DOE spokeswoman told the Free Beacon that Cleantech Leaders was in charge of selecting the sponsors. But another former official questioned the optics of having corporate sponsorships at a government co-hosted conference.
"I do question why [Loan Programs Office] would need sponsors," said the former official. "It doesn’t really meet the political smell test of being appropriate to have these sponsors."