Another black eye for Obama agenda on clean en­ergy

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY TIM DE­VANEY

Fail­ing to heed the lessons of the Solyn­dra de­ba­cle, En­ergy Depart­ment of­fi­cials kept quiet about their knowl­edge that a gov­ern­ment-backed elec­tric car charger com­pany was slid­ing to­ward bank­ruptcy and putting tax­payer money at risk, the agency’s chief watch­dog has found.

“We are deeply con­cerned be­cause the in­for­ma­tion di­rectly re­lated to the ob­jec­tive of our au­dit, to de­ter­mine whether the Depart­ment had ef­fec­tively awarded and man­aged fund­ing to Eco­tal­ity,” the watch­dog wrote in a re­port with eerie over­tures from the Solyn­dra so­lar fail­ure.

Tues­day’s re­port marked the lat­est black eye for Pres­i­dent Obama’s much-bal­ly­hooed strat­egy to use the 2009 stim­u­lus to fund clean-en­ergy projects, many of which have failed.

One such ex­am­ple is the Solyn­dra so­lar com­pany, which fell into bank­ruptcy af­ter re­ceiv­ing gov­ern­ment money. In Septem­ber 2011, Solyn­dra filed for bank­ruptcy, de­spite re­ceiv­ing $535 mil­lion from the En­ergy Depart­ment. Much of that money will be lost to tax­pay­ers, of­fi­cials have ac­knowl­edged, and the ad­min­is­tra­tion promised af­ter that high­vis­i­bil­ity fail­ure to do a bet­ter job track­ing grant re­cip­i­ents that are in fi­nan­cial trou­ble.

Eco­tal­ity re­ceived $135 mil­lion in to­tal fund­ing from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment over the past eight years, in­clud­ing $35 mil­lion for two projects that were ap­proved in 2005 and 2011, and a $100 mil­lion grant from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Re­cov­ery Act, known as the Amer­i­can Re­cov­ery and Rein­vest­ment Act of 2009, which gave a boost to en­ergy-ef­fi­cient com­pa­nies.

Eco­tal­ity filed for Chap­ter 11 bank­ruptcy pro­tec­tion Sept. 16, but of­fi­cials at the En­ergy Depart­ment failed to give the in­spec­tor gen­eral no­tice in the months lead­ing up to the bank­ruptcy.

The En­ergy Depart­ment be­came of aware of Eco­tal­ity’s prob­lems May 21, when the com­pany re­ported that it was not on track to meet its Septem­ber mile­stones, which in­cluded in­stalling charg­ing sta­tions and col­lect­ing elec­tric ve­hi­cle us­age data.

On June 14, of­fi­cials from the En­ergy Depart­ment no­ti­fied Eco­tal­ity that it would have to sub­mit a cor­rec­tive ac­tion plan to ad­dress the prob­lems that were pre­vent­ing the com­pany from in­stalling the elec­tric ve­hi­cle charg­ing sta­tions on sched­ule.

The En­ergy Depart­ment also cut off Eco­tal­ity’s Re­cov­ery Act fund­ing but con­tin­ued to make pay­ments on the $26 mil­lion project it was awarded in 2011.

But on July 9, En­ergy Depart­ment of­fi­cials ig­nored th­ese prob­lems in com­ments they pro­vided for a re­port that the in­spec­tor gen­eral was writ­ing, which the watch­dog in­di­cated was neg­li­gent on its part.

“In fact, in its com­ments, the Depart­ment as­serted that pre­vi­ous award mod­i­fi­ca­tions, dis­cussed in our July 2013 au­dit re­port, made Eco­tal­ity’s pro­duc­tion and in­stal­la­tions goals achiev­able,” the watch­dog wrote.

En­ergy Depart­ment of­fi­cials later said they didn’t think the in­for­ma­tion about Eco­tal­ity’s strug­gles was rel­e­vant to the in­spec­tor gen­eral’s au­dit, but even­tu­ally agreed to the watch­dog’s sug­gested mea­sures to im­prove trans­parency.

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