By editorial board • 

It's way past time to rein in runway energy boondoggle

The Oregon Department of Energy, charged with encouraging conservation of conventional sources and development of renewable alternatives, went about its task quietly and commendably for decades.

But the gubernatorial administration of Democrat Ted Kulongoski had bigger ambitions, and persuaded the 2007 Legislature to go along. That served to greatly swell the volume of subsidized loans through its Small-Scale Energy Loan Program (SELP) and tax credits through its Business Energy Tax Credit program (BETC).

It’s been all downhill since. And the crash of 2008 played a relatively small role in the debacle, as the department lurched from director to director and scandal to scandal. It’s currently on its sixth director since 2009, and the offenses have proliferated to the point they can no longer be enumerated with precision.

SELP’s lowlights include loans of $18 million to a Columbia County ethanol producer that frittered the money away before going under; $12.1 million to a Linn County solar power outfit that flopped in the face of foreign competition; $1.4 million to a Central Oregon resort that fell victim to the 2008 crash; and $1 million to Blue Heron Paper just before it slid into bankruptcy. But these stigmas pale in comparison to BETC’s lowlights.

Overruling its staff, DOE let a New York outfit divided an Eastern Oregon wind farm into three elements in order to claim a $10 million tax credit in triplicate. It tried to rewrite rules to allow deeply discounted sales of state tax credits to private investors on the open market.

Worse, it accepted apparently forged and falsified documents to justify awarding $12 million to a joint Oregon State University/Oregon Institute of Technology solar project. One lure was a bounty of high-paid jobs, but the work ended up going to inmates at the federal prison in Sheridan at 93 cents an hour.

During the past decade, the department has doled out almost $1 billion in credits, but has little to show for it. And the public would probably be none the wiser were it not for dogged probing by The Oregonian, which has accused the agency of operating on a “foundation of falsehoods and false hopes.”

Oregon long ago became a one-party state. Unfortunately, that party is so ideologically committed to clean, renewable energy, and politically and financially beholden to advocates, that it has largely turned a blind eye.

In recent months, the pressure finally became so great for the troika of top Democrats at the statehouse, Gov. Kate Brown, Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek, that they were forced to promise action — sometime in 2017, with the spring legislative session and fall general election of 2016 safely behind them.

That may be good enough for Oregon’s entrenched elite, but it’s not good enough for the rest of us. This corrupt and incompetent agency should have been reined in long ago, if not eliminated outright.

Delaying meaningful action in the interests of political expediency — and that’s how we see it, denials notwithstanding — is a travesty. Voters must demand a far fuller measure of accountability when they cast their ballots this year.

 

Comments

Don Dix

These wasteful situations are easily explained (and include all government boondoggles) ... it is always easy to spend other people's money ... and the line of applicants is quite impressive (in terms of length)!

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