Popular Treasury grant program takes hit as Boehner lashes out at Obama admin

Source: John McArdle, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, March 30, 2012

Supporters of the Treasury Department’s Section 1603 renewable energy program have gone to great lengths to explain the many differences between the popular grant-in-lieu-of-tax-credit effort and the controversial Department of Energy loan guarantee program that was responsible for the Solyndra debacle.

But those efforts didn’t much matter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) today as he lumped the two programs together in a broadside against the Obama administration over stimulus spending and the unemployment rate.

At his weekly news conference, Boehner called the 1603 program a “Solyndra-style stimulus program” that has so far cost the government $10 billion.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu “said it created ‘tens of thousands of jobs,’ except there’s no evidence to support that,” Boehner said. “Listen, the American people continue to ask the question, ‘Where are the jobs?’ They deserve answers, and they deserve the truth.”

The speaker’s comments come as the White House has been working to revive the 1603 program after Congress failed to extend it past last year’s Dec. 31 statutory end date.

Boehner noted that the House Energy and Commerce Committee recently sent a document request to DOE and Treasury for information about the precise number of jobs the 1603 program has created.

The Energy and Commerce Committee, which is also taking the lead role in the Solyndra probe, said in its March 15 letters that “overall, significant doubts have been raised about the [1603] program’s vetting and selection of recipients, high costs, and record of achievement in its job growth objectives thus far, calling into question the wisdom of President Obama’s proposed extension.”

The deadline for their response is today, and committee officials said this afternoon they had yet to hear from either agency.

Boehner’s comments indicate a willingness to repackage some of the same attacks that gained so much traction during the height of the Solyndra controversy, but there are differences between the Treasury program and the DOE loan program, which provided a half-billion-dollar loan guarantee to the failed solar company.

Rather than guaranteeing loans to clean energy projects, the 1603 simply allows renewable energy projects to take a 30 percent grant instead of the existing investment tax credit or a production tax credit. The program, which is only eligible for projects that have been built, merely changes the timing of when the energy incentive can be claimed.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said the 1603 program doesn’t “pick winners and losers,” which has been one of the main Republican complaints against the loan program.

“I think you wouldn’t have to talk to very many leaders in the energy industry to come to the conclusion that it made a huge difference economically and it’s a tool we should have,” Blumenauer said.

A DOE spokeswoman said today that the 1603 program has supported more than 20,000 renewable energy projects, leveraging nearly $30 billion in private sector investments and creating tens of thousands of jobs in installation, construction and operation, as well as up and down the manufacturing supply chain.

Late last year, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) released estimates that 37,000 additional jobs could be created in the solar sector alone by extending the 1603 program by a year. The report found that a five-year extension would provide more predictability and stability and would support as many as 114,000 jobs, including more than 55,000 direct and indirect solar workers.

But Boehner’s comments today appear to give credence to the widely held belief that with so much focus on election-year politics, any possible extension of the 1603 program might have to wait until the lame duck session this year (Greenwire, March 27).