Sunday, March 18, 2018 by David Williams
It’s hard enough to push for more widespread adoption of clean energy options in the U.S. as it is. Corrupt government officials certainly haven’t made it any easier. Now a recently released report from the Department of Energy (DOE) reveals that several million in funds allocated for a large clean energy project in Texas have been misused for things like alcohol, travel and various “social” expenses, according to the agency’s Inspector General.
In its recent audit report, the watchdog showed information about how the Office of Fossil Energy approved a total of $38 million in funds for use in something called the “Texas Clean Energy Project”, which was sadly never built at all. And the worst part is that the documentation for the proper use of all the funds just doesn’t exist. This is unfortunate because there appeared to be many instances where fees were paid for items or services that were completely unrelated to the project.
According to the report, there was once an instance where more than $600,000 in consulting fees were allocated for things like spa services, limousine rides, and even first-class plane trips. And while that may seem egregious, the auditors noted that it may as well had been routine for all those involved.
“The issues identified occurred, in part, because Fossil Energy had not always exercised sound project and financial management practices in its oversight,” said the report.
The Texas Clean Energy Project was supposed to be one of a number of big carbon capture initiatives that received funding from the DOE under the stimulus package approved by former President Obama back in 2009. One of its key aspects was the use of a commercial coal plant near Odessa, Texas that could capture and store more than 90 percent of its CO2 emissions.
According to the auditors, Fossil Energy should be held accountable for what went down. “We believe that Fossil Energy should thoroughly evaluate and address the issues and apply lessons learned to other similar projects,” they said. That will be good for future audits, for sure, but when the lessons you need to learn cost taxpayers $38 million, perhaps your level of accountability should go a little further than that.
For its part, Summit Power Group, which has worked with Fossil Energy quite extensively over the years, has expressed disagreement with the findings pertaining to how they used their funds. In a statement, it also said that it was disappointed that the report wasn’t simply released without letting them review its contents beforehand.
“As a condition of receiving the award, Summit put in place rigorous financial oversight controls and as the report notes, the project underwent annual external audits that found no significant findings or questionable costs,” said the group.
For now, the Office of Fossil Energy is said to be in agreement with the findings of the audit and report, and said that it would take “corrective action” where necessary. Steven Windberg, the Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy, said that they have made a clear-cut decision based on the findings. “The facts and circumstances detailed in the report support the decision to discontinue this high-profile, major demonstration project,” he said.
For some people like Kurt Waltzer, the managing director at Clean Air Task Force, the findings are “incredibly frustrating” due to the fact that the U.S. currently underinvests in low-carbon technology. He said that the nation’s clean energy toolkit needs to have some DOE grant-making ability in it to support early stage efforts, so the DOE needs to reform its oversight to ensure that everyone gets exactly what they deserve. With the way things are going, the country will surely get what it deserves, unless the blatant misappropriation of funds is stopped for good.
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