Report: Treasury conducting probe of stimulus program for solar panels

A Treasury Department stimulus program that gave cash grants for installing rooftop solar panels is under internal investigation, according to Reuters.

Treasury's Office of the Inspector General has requested documents dating back to 2007 in its probe of the Section 1603 program, which awarded $2.7 billion for 44,000 solar projects, according to Reuters. It is not yet clear what the investigation pertains to. 

The cash grant program expired at the end of 2011.

The probe will likely play into GOP attacks on President Obama’s clean energy and spending priorities, which GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney denounced in last week's presidential debate.

Republicans have held up Solyndra, a failed solar panel maker that got a $535-million federal loan guarantee from a different stimulus program, as a symbol of what they say are Obama’s misguided energy policies. They say the Solyndra experience shows government should not try to pick winners and losers in the market.

The administration has stood behind the 1603 program and wants to extend it. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in March 2011 testimony to the House Energy and Commerce Committee that the “program has created tens of thousands of jobs” in renewable energy industries.

Republicans have criticized the program, which also provides assistance for other renewable energy projects, for failing to create enough new jobs. And House GOP energy leadership has asked Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner for a plan for recovering grant payments through the program that were given to now-bankrupt firms.

The 2009 stimulus established the cash-payment program because the tax credit financing market, which traditionally funded renewable energy installation projects, had collapsed.

The downturn in the economy had drained the profits and tax liabilities that financiers used to hedge against the credits. Some banks that backed renewable projects also failed.

The inspector general told Reuters it would not comment on the investigation, though it did provide a statement.

"We do not discuss pending audits and investigations in detail," said Rich Delmar, counsel to the inspector general. "But generally speaking, we are carrying out our Inspector General Act-mandated duties to monitor the process by which public funds are distributed, to be sure that they are granted properly and used properly, consistent with applicable law, and intended use."

— This story was corrected at 2:07 p.m. to reflect that the Section 1603 programed expired in 2011. A previous version of the story contained incorrect information.