Congress Demands Treasury Department Report on Solar Companies Investigation

Published May 26, 2016

Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) are requesting the U.S. Treasury Department produce the results of an investigation into abuses of a government program that grants clean-energy tax credits to renewable energy companies.

The Treasury Department has been conducting the investigation for the past three years.

Murkowski and Flake sent a letter to the Treasury Department’s inspector general in early April asking for the status of the investigation.

The letter says the Treasury Department had previously indicated the companies under investigation are alleged to have included ineligible items as costs for reimbursement under the terms of their federally backed loans or overstated the value of their solar energy investments, claiming approximately $1.3 billion “in unwarranted cash grants, [amounting to] more than two-and-a-half times the amount of the Solyndra default.”

The Obama administration gave Solyndra a federal loan guarantee of more than $535 million as part of the administration’s green-energy initiatives, but in September 2011 the company declared bankruptcy. 

Multiple Offenders

Solyndra was not the only green-energy company to collapse after receiving federal tax credits, subsidies, or loan guarantees. In 2012, Abound Solar declared bankruptcy after receiving more than $400 million in federal loan guarantees. Abound Solar had knowingly sold underperforming solar panels for years, and when it closed its doors, it left behind piles of toxic, defective solar panels that were later covered in concrete and buried.

Spanish green-energy giant Abengoa, which has received more than $2 billion in federal and state taxpayer support, filed for bankruptcy protection in the United States in late March.

In April, SunEdison—one of the most government-subsidized companies in the United States and the self-proclaimed “largest green energy company”—filed for bankruptcy. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) are investigating its financial dealings. 

Deadline Missed, Senators Ignored

This is not the first time Congress has called on the Treasury Department to release the findings of its investigation into the clean-energy tax-credit program. The Treasury Department had previously told Congress it would publish its findings by June 2015, but it failed to do so.

Murkowski, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and eight other Republican senators sent a letter to the Treasury Department in November 2015 asking for an update of its investigation. The request came shortly after an SEC filing revealed the solar company, SolarCity, which received over $500 million in cash grants through the tax-credit program, was being investigated by the Treasury Department and DOJ for “possible misrepresentations concerning the fair market value of the solar energy systems submitted by the Company in U.S. Treasury grant applications.”

Treasury Department officials failed to update the Senate.

‘People Deserve Answers’

Dan Kish, senior vice president of policy for The Institute for Energy Research, says billions of taxpayer dollars are at stake.

“This money belongs to the taxpayers, and we’ve already seen the collapse of green-energy companies who’ve taken the government money and ran,” Kish said. “People deserve to know what’s happening, and the longer they delay their response, the more it looks like they have something to hide.

“Treasury and the DOJ need to come clean with the Senate and taxpayers concerning the status of these investigations,” said David Williams, president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA). “There are so many unanswered questions about how these solar companies got and spent taxpayers’ money. We need answers.

“This heavily subsidized industry operates in secrecy [and] with very little oversight,” Williams said. “I’ve long been concerned about these large solar companies and how they’ve misrepresented their financials.”

Kish says the repeated failures of multiple renewable-energy companies, despite huge government infusions of cash, shows government should not be attempting to pick winners and losers in the marketplace.

“Unfortunately, there are people in Washington, DC who think they know more about the energy business than the people who actually work in it,” Kish said. “If things were operating properly in Washington, this wouldn’t be happening.

Reform Needed

“Every time [the federal government] supports a green-energy company with subsidies and mandates, they make the cost of energy go up for everyone—while the friends of the administration get rich on the backs of poor people and the middle class,” said Kish.

“Hopefully, Congress will learn from this and not repeat some of the same mistakes, but I’m not encouraged by their bad track record,” Kish said.

“Will the Obama administration turn a blind eye to the potential crimes committed by solar companies, leaving taxpayers on the hook because [Obama] thinks the industry is critical to fighting climate change? I fear so,” said Williams. “We need Treasury’s report ASAP.”

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas and H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute.