GAO: 25% of All Renewable-Energy Initiatives in FY 2010 Tied to 2009 Economic Stimulus

By Christopher Goins | March 19, 2012 | 6:38pm EDT

(AP Photo)

( – President Obama’s 2009 economic stimulus law, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, impacted nearly one quarter (25 percent) of all renewable energy initiatives across the government, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report says.

According to GAO, 157 of the nearly 700 renewable energy initiatives in fiscal year 2010 were either created by the stimulus law, received expanded funding or were modified under it and the futures of some programs are uncertain because of a draw-down in funding -- or because they were already set to expire..

The programs were implemented by 23 agencies and their 130 sub-agencies.

“Agencies’ renewable energy efforts increased in recent years as a result of the provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and other factors,” the GAO report said.

“[B]ut the level of future efforts is less certain with the expiration of these provisions and budget constraints,” it added.

Although 20 initiatives were established by the Recovery Act, another 106 initiatives that existed prior to the stimulus law received additional funding for renewable energy activities. Additionally, 26 programs were given a longer lifespan or scope of authority changed under the stimulus law. Another 19 initiatives – not included in the total -- were indirectly affected by the law.

The GAO found through agency reports that “staff workloads increased as a result of the Recovery Act even though the initiatives did not receive direct funding from the Recovery Act.”

An overwhelming number of renewable energy initiatives supported bioenergy, solar, and wind energy -- with 398 bioenergy initiatives, 345 solar initiatives, and 296 wind initiatives being supported government-wide.

According to GAO’s Frank Rusco, “The reason that the number of bioenergy, solar, and wind initiatives adds to more than the total (679) is because many initiatives supported multiple renewable energy sources.”

The reason that the sum of the number of initiatives in each category of Recovery Act impacts adds to more than the total number of initiatives impacted (157), is because some initiatives had multiple impacts, Rusco added.

Other initiatives supported government-wide, although less commonly supported than the aforementioned three categories, include waste conversion initiatives, geothermal initiatives, hydropower initiatives, and ocean initiatives.

Some of those initiatives created by the Recovery Act include:

-- The Recovery Act Wood to Energy Biomass Activity initiative, a Department of Agriculture project

-- The Green Retrofit Program for Multifamily Housing, a Department of Housing and  Urban Development project

-- The Solar Energy Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, a Department of the Interior Intitiative

-- Green Capacity Building grants, a Department of Labor initiative

-- And the Qualifying Advanced Energy Project Credit, a U.S. Treasury Department initiative.

The report did not provide costs of the individual programs.

The government’s top energy research body, the Energy Information Administration, estimated that for fiscal year 2010, federal subsidies for renewable energy sources totaled approximately $14.7 billion, including $8.2 billion in tax expenditures.

The GAO report says that amount is a substantial increase from EIA’s estimate from fiscal year 2007, which was $5.1 billion, adding that much of the increase was due to the stimulus law.

“Much of this increase was due to the Recovery Act, which provided an estimated $6.2 billion of the $14.7 billion in fiscal year 2010 subsidies,” the GAO report said.

The report also notes that the Environmental Law Institute estimated that the total federal subsidies from fiscal year 2002 through 2008 to be $29 billion.

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