The Treasury and Energy departments today announced $503 million in stimulus grants for "clean energy" projects. And while the energy may be clean, the politics may remind some of the soot belching from an old-fashioned smokestack.
Of the $503 million, $294 million went to a Spanish wind power company, Iberdrola SA, the Wall Street Journal reported. A quick search of the Federal Election Commission database shows the company's executives donated to the Obama campaign, with executives Brent Alderfer contributing $2000, Brent Beerley $1750, Eric Blank $2775, Jennifer Bradford $250, Melissa Erickson $250, Jon Fischer $250, Anders Glader $250, Kevin Helmich $250, Kevin Lynch $2300, Kourtney Nelson $450, Carolyn Plemons $250, Timothy Seck $250, and Peter Toomey $300 — a total of $11,325. An additional $10,250 from Iberdrola executives went to the "Obama Victory Fund," a joint fundraising committee allied with the Obama campaign.
Another about $115 million of the $503 million went to a company called First Wind, whose owners include the Chicago-based Madison Dearborn Partners and a member of the D.E. Shaw group. This Bloomberg article quotes President Obama's White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, a congressman at the time the article was published, as saying of Madison Dearborn, "They've been not only supporters of mine, they're friends of mine." The Bloomberg article says, "Employees of Madison Dearborn have donated $77,500 to Emanuel's re-election committee since 2001, collectively emerging as the top contributor to his campaigns in his congressional career, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics." D.E. Shaw is the firm at which Mr. Obama's chief of the National Economic Council, Lawrence Summers, held a $5.2 million a year, one-day-a-week job. The Energy Department did not respond to a query from FutureOfCapitalism.com about whether Messrs. Emanuel or Summers had been involved in the decision to award the grant. The Journal did say that "Government officials said there was no cap on the program and that every qualifying application would be funded," though, as CIT could tell you, what constitutes a "qualifying" application is often the billion-dollar question in Washington. One company official, however, described the process of applying for the grants as "nondiscretionary," explaining that all firms whose applications met the terms of the law would receive funding.
The treasurer of Cohocton Wind Watch, a group that opposes one of the First Wind wind farms that received stimulus money, Judi Hall, said she has spent tens of thousands of her own dollars fighting against the placement of a 427-foot tall wind turbine 1567 feet from the front door of her home. "I feel like I was kicked in the stomach," she said. "I am so angry….It's just crazy."
A spokesman for First Wind, John Lamontagne, said that although the wind farms in Maine and New York for which his company received stimulus funds had already been completed, the money "will serve as a sort of stimulus for other, future projects."
"What these funds will do is help generate construction of projects and generate clean power," Mr. Lamontagne said. "This will have a significant positive impact."
In the Treasury Department press release, Secretary Timothy Geithner is quoted as saying, "This renewable energy program will spur the manufacture and development of clean energy in urban and rural America, allowing us to protect our environment, create good jobs and revitalize our nation's economy."
This all could be just the beginning. The Wall Street Journal reports that Iberdrola SA plans to collect as much as $2 billion in U.S. taxpayer aid, not bad for a Spanish company.
And if you question the wisdom of spending hundreds of millions of money from ordinary taxpayers to support operators of wind farms that have already been built with funds from rich investors — well, you may feel as if you are tilting at windmills.