WASHINGTON — Billions of dollars in federal spending on wind-energy initiatives likely have been excessive and unnecessary, according to the government’s own watchdog.
The federal departments of Energy and Agriculture handed out taxpayer dollars to start-up wind companies without checking whether the funding was needed, the report from the General Accountability Office states.
“(W)hether initiatives’ incremental support was always needed for wind projects to be built is also unclear. GAO’s review of a briefing memorandum from White House staff, DOE documents, and other documentation related to two wind projects suggests that agencies’ wind initiatives have, in some cases, supported projects that may have been built without their incremental support,” the authors wrote in the 283-page report.
Nine federal agencies oversaw 82 wind-related initiatives in 2011, according to the report. GAO researchers found instances in which a single recipient for wind energy received funding from seven different federal programs for a single project, agency spokesman Frank Rusco said.
The full report describes 31 areas in which federal programs overlap or are fragmented or duplicative. GAO researchers culled through agencies’ strategic plans, performance and accountability reports and budgets to reach their conclusions.
The section on renewable energy programs describes their rapid growth under the Obama administration. It notes that federal spending had been $4 billion a year from 2002 to 2008. Then, after the $792 billion stimulus bill became law, federal expenditures rose to $15 billion in 2010. Nearly a quarter of all federal programs for wind, solar, and bio-fuels (157 in all) received funding from Obama’s signature bill, the report notes.
The report is careful not to conclude directly that any program or agency is inefficient or wasteful. Instead, it implies that some renewable energy programs are so.
“While the extent to which this fragmentation is necessary remains unclear, the magnitude of federal renewable energy efforts may increase the likelihood that some of this fragmentation is, in fact, unnecessary,” the authors write in “Actions Needed to Reduce Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication and Achieve Other Financial Benefits.”
The report is the third and final installment of the series that began in 2011. Previous reports have said the Department of the Interior could raise the rates for leaseholders on non-oil revenue producing federal land to $4 an acre.
Most of the nine members of the Colorado congressional delegation supported the extension of the federal wind-energy tax credit, which is due to expire at the end of this year.