Energy Department Review Led to Delays at Green Projects: GAO

Source: By Timothy Gardner, Reuters • Posted: Thursday, March 1, 2018

WASHINGTON — Green energy technology development projects suffered staffing and investment problems last year due to a Trump administration review of Energy Department funding for companies and universities, a federal government report said on Wednesday.

The Department of Energy implemented a program to review and approve aid on a rolling basis including funds from its branch called the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, from May to September. ARPA-E funds high risk but potentially transformational energy projects such as next generation batteries for electric cars and storing energy from wind and solar power.

The DOE review process was implemented to make sure that the aid was consistent with the Trump administration’s priorities, it said at the time.

But the U.S. Government Accountability Office, a watchdog unit of Congress, said that 10 recipients of ARPA-E funding it interviewed complained that uncertainties caused by the review reduced private investors’ willingness to fund projects, delayed equipment purchases and limited the scope of projects.

The GAO did not reveal whom it interviewed for the report.

DOE spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes said the aid review was launched to “ensure funding was being implemented in a fiscally responsible way.” The GAO report confirmed that “the department did not illegally withhold any funding” and that ultimately all ARPA-E commitments were honored, Hynes said.

The Trump administration has pursued an energy dominance policy that aims to maximize exports of fossil fuels including coal, natural gas and oil, which critics complain does not do enough to promote renewable energy.

The administration’s budget for fiscal year 2019 calls for the “termination” of ARPA-E and loan programs by the Department of Energy, while maintaining the existing loan portfolio and making sure existing awards are completed.

Senator Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the Senate energy committee, said the GAO report showed the Department of Energy created uncertainty for small business, risked millions of dollars of investments, and threatened jobs.

The report said DOE is conducting this year’s funding review before it issues funding announcements, which agency officials said should reduce uncertainties experienced last year.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)