Report: Solar firms under investigation for stimulus swindle

The nation’s three most productive solar installation firms are under investigation for allegedly exaggerating business costs to get larger cash payments through a federal stimulus program.

The Treasury Department’s inspector general is asking SolarCity, SunRun and Sungevity to justify the more than $500 million in federal grants and tax credits they got for their work, according to The Washington Post.

The companies in question received payments through Treasury’s 1603 program, which was designed to increase renewable energy use.

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The cash grant program pays installers up to 30 percent of the project cost. So by inflating business expenses, the firms would be eligible for a larger payout.

The firms might have to repay the government if found to have abused the program and could face other penalties.

The inspector general told The Hill it does not comment on whether entities are being investigated, though it did confirm that SolarCity had received a subpoena.

“We can generally say that 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. The 1603 program is a high-impact and high-visibility program involving a significant amount of public funds. Thus it has a high priority in our audit and investigative plans,” Richard Delmar, spokesman with Treasury’s office of inspector general, told The Hill in a statement.

The 1603 program switched from offering investment tax credits to divvying out cash grants under the 2009 stimulus. At the time, the tax credit financing market — which traditionally funded renewable energy projects — had collapsed.

Jonathan Bass, spokesman for SolarCity, said the firm had disclosed the probe in October filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

"SolarCity has followed the Treasury Department's guidance for the program, we're cooperating with the review and we're happy to share information that could assist in the review," he said in a Friday statement to The Hill.

SunRun and Sungevity did not respond to requests for comment.

Updated at 12:45 p.m.