DENVER, CO- A little-known program administered by the Department of Treasury under President Barack Obama’s Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act steered federal payments to a trendy breakfast haunt in downtown Denver, a Wheat Ridge cycling shop, the Colorado branches of 3 Fortune 500 companies, and a west slope liquor store that now has the curious distinction of being the “largest solar powered liquor store in Colorado,” according to information obtained by The Colorado Observer.
The payments are part of the nearly $1 trillion stimulus package approved in 2009 that the Obama Administration said would keep unemployment nationally below 8 percent.
The Treasury-implemented program, bureaucratically dubbed the 1603 program, has provided renewable energy project developers a lump-sum cash payment in lieu of receiving investment tax credits.
Unlike another controversial loan guarantee program for renewable energy businesses that has drawn national headlines and the scrutiny of congressional investigators for squandering billions of dollars on companies like Solyndra and Abound Solar, Treasury’s 1603 program has managed to remain relatively obscure, with billions of stimulus dollars spent on renewable energy projects that have been difficult to track.
Despite the fact that the stimulus bill failed to achieve promised reductions in unemployment, there were still plenty of big winners under the 1603 program in this state.
Attempting to quantify how many jobs the 1603 stimulus funding has created, even temporary ones, has been more art than science.
The Wall Street Journal, quoting a Congressional Research Service report in a February 24, 2012 story on 1603 recipients, urged, “any job creation estimate be viewed with skepticism.” Based on “formulas, mathematical models and reports by recipients,” according to the WSJ, precise quantification proved, as the CRS report described, “difficult.”
An investigation by The Colorado Observer, however, has been able to put together a snap shot of the types of businesses that benefited from the 1603-sponsored taxpayer windfall. An exhaustive analysis of federal reports shows numerous federal payments to install solar equipment for Colorado companies.
Conspicuous on the list of Colorado companies that benefited from the solar subsidy were the Colorado branches of 3 Fortune 500 Companies: insurance giant Metlife, whose solar subsidy was $877,137, Hertz Rental Car which nabbed $364,539 in solar aid, and Wells Fargo, the second largest bank in the U.S. and America’s 23rd largest company overall, which received $342,628.
But a number of smaller businesses also benefited from the program as well.
Andy’s Liquor Mart of Grand Junction, which has dubbed itself the “largest solar powered liquor store in Colorado,” received $103,410 from the program.
The store installed 378 panels.
According to the Solar Energy Blog, the panels cover 95 percent of the store’s roof area, producing “43 percent of the store’s electricity consumption.”
Another recipient, Denver’s Seattle Fish Company, received $150,484 for its solar array. According to the company’s site, sustainability is a core business principle:
“Armed with increased awareness about our international supply chain, the SFC Green Team identified a number of ways to improve local operations-then sprang into action. Recent accomplishments include dramatic adjustments to corporate practices and policies, as well as energy-saving improvements to our facilities. We’re especially proud of our new solar array, which will reduce our annual carbon emissions by an estimated 285,000 lbs.”
One recipient is particularly noteworthy to Colorado’s political powerbrokers: Denver’s Racine’s Restaurant, a favorite haunt for Colorado lawmakers and statehouse lobbyists, installed 120 solar energy panels manufactured by the bankrupt California solar manufacturer Solyndra.
The installed system reportedly cost $147,500, with an estimated $40,000 rebate from Xcel and $53,250 in stimulus funding offsetting the final tab.
Governor John Hickenlooper, then Mayor of Denver, was on hand for the unveiling in late 2009:
“Here we have electric panels that have been specially conformed to fit the barrel roof. This is a difficult application, and yet demonstrates that every business, every home can be part of what they call the distributed solution.”
The governor touted the solar tubes’ ability to gain energy from direct, diffused, and reflected sunlight. According to Hickenlooper, the payout for the project was estimated at five years.
“There’s no explosion?” Hickenlooper quipped when the installation was turned on.
Wheat Ridge Cyclery has been a staple for local residents and cycling fans alike for decades, and in 2010 installed a 48 KW solar module array consisting of 270 panels. The expected output for the first year was estimated at 65,000 kilowatt-hours.
Video of the installation from 2010:
With funding of projects of all types by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 being scrutinized mainly for big ticket items costing millions or even billions of dollars, attention for other programs awarding funds under $1 million has been fairly insignificant. Together, though, these programs spent significant cumulative sums investing in solar technologies in the Centennial State.
Here is the full list of 1603 recipients for the state of Colorado, organized by amount received in descending order: