The Treasury Department is dragging its feet on releasing its findings from an investigation into fraud allegations by solar companies that received cash grants from the government to invest in solar power as part of the president’s stimulus bill.
The probe centers on companies and individuals that inflated the value of their investments in order to receive larger grants from the government. Investigators believe the amount of fraud exceeds $1.3 billion — approximately 2 1/2 times the amount of taxpayer money lost in the Solyndra scandal.
The Treasury Department was supposed to turn over a report on its findings in June of 2015 but has so far failed to inform Congress of the extent of the fraud.
Republicans wrote to the department in November asking for the status of their investigation into solar companies, and lawmakers are again asking for Treasury officials to handover the “final results of your investigations.”
“Based on the information available, we remain concerned that the 1603 cash grant program and the administration of the investment tax credits lack sufficient transparency, oversight and enforcement to protect taxpayers,” Murkowski and her colleagues wrote to the Treasury in November.
The Obama administration has handed out $25 billion in grants made by the Treasury to solar companies since 2009 as part of the president’s effort to grow green energy markets and fight global warming.
These grants, called Section 1603 grants, were created as part of President Barack Obama’s stimulus package and paid for 30 percent of solar energy investments. The program expired in 2011 — the same year Solyndra declared bankruptcy after getting $535 million from taxpayers.
In November, Republicans specifically called out SolarCity, a company chaired by billionaire Elon Musk, for being investigated by Treasury and Justice Department officials over allegedly abusing solar subsidies. SolarCity is being investigated for “possible misrepresentations concerned the fair market value of the solar energy systems,” according to an October Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
Federal auditors have also found ample reason to be concerned that some companies and individuals getting taxpayers cash for investing in solar energy may have been double-dipping or even inflating the size of their investments to get more money.
Federal investigators have been looking into potential fraud by solar companies for more than three years. In 2013, Treasury officials heard anecdotal evidence that suggested “some practitioners are encouraging the use of leasing transactions because that allows fair market value to be overstated to increase the grant amount.”
But the Treasury Department hasn’t released its findings on solar companies getting more tax dollars than they should have.
What the heck does Elon Musk need a grant from the taxpayers for? That’s a question we could probably ask of any of the investors who pocketed more than a billion dollars.
A slush fund for billionaires? In the Obama administration? Who woulda thunk it.
I can guarantee you that cash grants to investors to encourage them to put money into solar power won’t be necessary when solar becomes economically competitive. At that point, solar companies will have to beat investors off with a stick.
Until then, programs like this are just welfare for the rich.