Universities’ massive solar tax scam under criminal investigation

I know what you’re thinking: Of course, but what was in it for our Johnson Hall colleagues? Someone owns a nice pied-a-terre near the panels and wanted UO to pay their travel? A new AVP for solar collaboration job?

But no. It’s OSU and OIT this time. UO sustainability efforts have been focused on things like recycling and the Urban Farm, which is more popular with potential undergraduates than Duck sports.

Oregonian investigative reporter Ted Sickinger reports on the latest sustainability scam. The state has wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on green energy rip-offs like this – while starving the higher ed budget:

The Oregon Department of Justice has opened criminal and civil investigations into the award of $11.8 million in state tax credits for a series of solar arrays installed at Oregon State University and the Oregon Institute of Technology.

The agency acted after The Oregonian/OregonLive reported earlier this month that developers of the arrays missed deadlines to qualify for subsidies under the state’s business energy tax credit. The news organization’s investigation found that backers submitted phony and misleading documents to the state to demonstrate construction was underway by the deadline – documents that officials at the Oregon Department of Energy failed to check.

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9 Responses to Universities’ massive solar tax scam under criminal investigation

  1. Ben says:

    So I’m just curious (no familiarity with this process so a bit of jargon in parts of the article)– what exactly did OSU and OIT do wrong, as opposed to a shady contractor? Did they screw up some documentation, award a contract under shady circumstances, or did the work just happen to be for their campuses?

    • Steve Mital - UO Sustainability Director says:

      Good Question.
      UO was also strongly encouraged to take advantage of the solar incentives a few years back. We decided not to, but not because we sensed any fraud. We just couldn’t guarantee the roof space for 20 years as the proposed buildings might become candidates for additional development.

      I have been following this closely given that we might have become entangled in it. As far as I can tell the universities are blameless. They had no reason at the time to think that the state incentives were illegal.

  2. Anonymous says:

    OSPIRG is now lobbying for more of this


    Students in the Sustainability Coalition are already trying to implement a more solar campus by requesting a grant to place solar panels on top of the EMU during its renovation process.

    Fusco, a Sustainability Coalition Outreach Executive, said that this would add to Oregon’s energy portfolio and encourage other campuses to do the same thing.

    Environmental Oregon is also enforcing solar energy by trying to renew bills and get new bills passed in Oregon’s legislature that make receiving solar energy easier. They have also been collaborating with OSPIRG by helping them host a town hall meeting next term that will center on the importance of going solar.

    “Now is the time to act on solar energy,” Feely said. “Anything we can do to push solar development, we should be doing.”

    • Steve Mital - UO Sustainability Director says:

      I won’t comment on the OSPIRG and Environment Oregon initiatives. I don’t know much about these initiatives.

      Regarding the EMU project… Nothing to fear here. It’s an 80Kish proposal to put a 16KW system on the renovated EMU. 33K come from a range of UO sources (including 1K from my office). EWEB greenpower customers will decide whether or not to grant 50K to the project in the coming weeks. Where will that 50K come from? From the premiums EWEB greenpower customers voluntarily choose to pay. Why would they do this, especially when most of the power EWEB provides is carbon-free? Presumably, it’s in line with their values. Or they’re confused. Probably, it’s some of both.

      Given our relatively low cost of power and high number of cloudy days it will take 20+ years to produce 83K in savings on our electricity bills (though far less time to earn back our 33K investment). That doesn’t make this any better or worse than any of the other proposals Greenpower customers are choosing amongst. They are all subject to the exact same constraints.

      Is it unwise? That’s a value judgement. Though it can be said that the cost to install solar is plummeting and at least some credit should go to early adopters. Their support is what makes the case for the continued R&D investment (some of which happens in UO labs) that in turn makes solar installation – even in the PNW – a little less crazy all the time.

  3. dog says:

    The BETC scam/whatever was first investigated in the Oregonian in 2011 by some investigate reporters. The basic problem is that the BETC is set up to induce fraud. You never actually have to build anything to get BETC credits.

    The BETC officially died on July 1, 2014


    and here is the original 2009 article


    note the BETC was supposed to sunset in 2012 but lingered for two more years. The Universities involved here aren’t guilty of anything, the entire BETC approach was completely stupid.

  4. countrydoctorate says:

    Just curious — why’s the Urban Farm in quotations? We don’t say, for example, the UO “economics department.” The UO Urban Farm is a program affiliated with the Dept. of Landscape Architecture and has been around for almost 30 years, one of the oldest of its kind in the country, and features a learning demo garden of 1.5 acres next to the absurdly almost empty new “student athlete” parking lot. The farm provides practicums to students to augment their reading in environmental literature, anthropology, geography, geology, etc., etc., and encourages all the things we’re so keen on getting our students to develop: self-sufficiency, responsibility, problem-solving, hard work. The burgeoning interest may indeed be a symptom of the whole “sustainability” trend, but let’s devote more money and resources to a venerable and valuable program, not try to denigrate it.

  5. uomatters says:

    Good point – I’ve removed the quotations. BTW, several of my best students have taken urban farm courses and they loved them.