Treasury Dept. Sitting On Investigation Into Solar Energy Fraud That’s ‘Two-And-A-Half Times Solyndra’

(REUTERS/Rashid Umar Abbasi )

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Michael Bastasch Contributor
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The Treasury Department has been looking into potential fraud by solar panel companies that got taxpayer funding for more than three years, but has yet to release any findings in their probe and, now, Republican lawmakers want answers.

Republicans senators sent a letter Monday to Treasury Inspectors General Eric Thorson and J. Russell George, asking the officials for updates regarding the agency’s investigation into solar companies that inflated the market value of their products to get more taxpayer cash.

“As you are aware, the Department recently indicated that applicants included ineligible costs or otherwise overstated the value of their solar energy investments by claiming approximately $1.3 billion in unwarranted cash grants,” Republican senators, led by Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, wrote in a letter to Treasury officials obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation.

The Treasury Department said it would publish its findings by June 2015, but that never happened. Republicans are once again hammering the agency for not releasing the results of a probe into whether taxpayers were fleeced for billions of dollars.

Republicans noted the amount of potential solar energy fraud was “more than two-and-a-half times the amount of the Solyndra default.”

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.

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