By Chris White
One of the green energy companies tied to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) received billions in government-backed loans before laying off thousands during the early part of the Obama administration.
First Solar is among nine green energy groups currently affiliated with a controversial non-profit group pushing free market policies on the state level, The Daily Caller New Foundation has learned. The solar company obtained $3 billion taxpayer-backed loan guarantees in 2011 amid the Solyndra debacle.
Other green energy companies have also aligned with ALEC. Clear Path Foundation, EDP Renewables, Pattern Energy, and Ygrene: Clean Energy are among the nine green energy groups currently tying themselves to ALEC. The 28-member group does not publicize the names of its members.
First Solar cut more than 150 jobs three months after receiving the loan and then laid off an additional 2,000 workers three months after that – or 30 percent of its workforce. The company ultimately sold off much of its $3 billion in federal loan guarantees to third-party entities. First Solar was not the only company that benefited from federal loans during the Obama-era.
The 2009 stimulus shoveled $51 billion into various green energy projects, including funding for solar companies Solyndra and Abound Solar, with the former receiving a $535 million loan guarantee to manufacture solar panels. Solyndra filed for bankruptcy in 2011.
Federal subsidies for solar energy alone increased 500 percent between 2010 and 2013, moving from $1.1 billion to $5.3 billion, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. Congressional Budget Office testimony before Congress showed an estimated $10.9 billion of energy-related tax preferences in 2016 went to solar and wind power.
Subsidies for solar and wind have hit an ebb recently, so some green energy companies have taken up a different strategy. Suniva and SolarWorld, both of which are owned by foreign companies in China and Germany, orchestrated a campaign in 2017 to enact tariffs on cheap technology from China a week after they filed for bankruptcy.
Suniva, which has also received $8.8 million in federal grants from 2010 to 2016, was founded in Georgia but now has a Chinese-majority owner. It also had access to millions more from the state government and communities in Michigan. Green energy companies that receive hefty subsidies don’t appear to be a natural fit for a group interested in promulgating free market policies.
“[M]embers espouse a variety of viewpoints and public policy positions,” Bill Meierling, ALEC’s chief marketing officer, told TheDCNF. “ALEC also maintains a strong position against subsidies and mandates. The government should not pick winners and losers, nor should it compel behavior change through tax policy.”
ALEC does not directly lobby the federal government, but the group’s corporate members do push state legislators on various policy matters, frequently with carefully crafted model legislation to be proposed in statehouses.
Yet including green energy companies into ALEC’s makeup does not appear to have shifted the group on carbon taxes, according to Paul Blair of Americans for Tax Reform. That doesn’t mean the group might not lean heavily toward green subsidies at some later point, he told TheDCNF.
“On issues like green energy subsidies — there has certainly been a center-left tilt within the group,” Blair said before noting the group has been consistently opposed to carbon taxes. “This is recent — about the past year and half or so. For whatever reason. There has been an appeal for center-left environmental move.”
He added: “There are certainly members who have ideas that are very inconsistent with ALEC’s mission. If every single clean energy company in the world joins, it becomes hard to advocate for free market policies.”
Environmentalists have poked and prodded oil companies to break ties with ALEC over the group’s anti-carbon tax position. They have not raise objections to First Solar and other green energy companies that choose to affiliate with the group.
Activists have lambasted Exxon and other companies for associating with the conservative group — the Texas-based oil company also catches flak from environmentalists for allegedly contributing to manmade global warming.
The bulk of the changes came shortly after companies like Royal Dutch Shell, Google and Yahoo cut off ties with the group over its position on climate change, the person noted.
While Exxon has broadly supported some climate change mitigation, the company continues to wrestle with shareholder measures requiring the oil producer to report on financial risks that Obama-era climate regulations pose to the company.
First Solar has not responded to TheDCNF’s request for comment about the nature of the company’s membership.
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