Watchdog: DOE grants to car charging company were 'overly generous'

Ecotality had secured the grants for a regional demonstration project for electric vehicle charging stations.

The firm had been the subject of GOP criticism for the $100 million it received in 2009 from the Obama administration’s federal stimulus, on top of the $35 million of separate federal grants it snagged between 2005 and 2011.

House Republicans aimed to paint the company, which President Obama had mentioned in his 2010 State of the Union address, as a green jobs failure.

At issue in the inspector general investigation was whether Ecotality could pass off some costs normally borne by consumers to the federal government.

Friedman determined that Ecotality’s financing structure was unusual, as the federal grant was used to cover expenses traditionally farmed off to consumers.

“While in-kind contributions that are directly proportional to value received are allowable, the vehicles and internet connections were purchased to satisfy personal needs of consumers, not solely for the project,” Friedman said.

The DOE pledged to review its policies regarding such contributions, said Kathleen Hogan, deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

“EERE is developing guidance to ensure future in-kind cost-share allowances will not only be in compliance with existing policies, but will also more carefully scrutinize the overall value to the government and reasonableness of both the source and amount of in-kind cost-share,” Hogan added.

Still, Ecotality likely required an unorthodox financing arrangement like the one the DOE approved to complete its project — though the public policy questions that raised were not considered in the review, Friedman noted.

The market for electric vehicles proved weaker than anticipated when Ecotality launched its project.

The firm supplemented the study by adding new regions, which Friedman said might have boosted costs.