(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. government is spending $20 million to “help clean energy projects in Africa get started.” Those projects include wind farms and solar panels, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced at the recent Rio +20 Conference in Brazil.
But the government watchdog Judicial Watch criticized the spending as wasteful, given the administration’s track record in trying to pick green energy winners.
“The U.S.-Africa Clean Energy Finance Initiative will help clean energy projects in Africa get started,” said Clinton in her June 22 speech. “This is an innovative partnership between three United States government entities – the State Department, OPIC (the Overseas Private Investment Corporation), and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency. We want to drive private sector investment into the energy sector.”
Clinton said the initial $20 million grant will "leverage much larger investment flows from OPIC,” which is the U.S. government's development finance institution. “That will open the door then for hundreds of millions of dollars of OPIC financing, plus hundreds of millions of more dollars from the private sector for projects that otherwise would never get off the drawing board.”
As it states on its Web site, “OPIC achieves its mission by providing investors with financing, guarantees, political risk insurance, and support for private equity investment funds.”
According to Clinton, “Africa is blessed with vast geothermal resources in the East, the world’s largest hydropower resources in the heart of the continent, and bright sunlight everywhere. Yet only one in four households in Africa has access to electricity today. That is 600 million men, women, and children living without power that can’t turn on the lights, can’t use a machine in a factory.
“Now why does this gap exist?” she asked. “It is because investors in this space often see obstacles and risks that stop them from investing in clean energy in Africa. … So if we can remove some of the risk and cover some of the costs of preparing a project, we believe we can spur significant new private investments in clean energy. And that is the idea behind the partnership we are announcing today.”
In describing the “obstacles and risks”, Clinton gave the example of a solar developer in South Sudan, "who has a plan that could bring electricity to rural communities for the first time, but he can’t get the attention of large investors without an expensive environmental impact assessment, which he cannot afford. One of our new grants could provide enough support to pay for that assessment.”
She also mentioned an investor “who wants to build a wind farm in Egypt but won’t commit until he sees assessments and land surveys. A grant could cover the cost and mean the difference between going forward or giving up.”
Tom Fitton, president of the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, told CNSNews.com that “governments are particularly incapable of ascertaining how to allocate private capital. Exhibit A: Solyndra.”
Solydra was a solar cell company based in California that received a $535-million loan guarantee from the Energy Department, through the 2009 economic stimulus act. Two years later, Solyndra, which had been personally visited and praised by President Obama, declared bankruptcy. At least 12 green energy firms that received about $6.5 billion from the administration now face financial troubles, according to CBS News, with at least 5 companies declaring bankruptcy.
Judicial Watch, in a statement, questioned the $20 million plan for Africa at a time when “the U.S. economy remains in shambles and a relentless unemployment crisis grips the nation,” adding that “the allocation comes less than 2 years after the administration dedicated $50 million to replace ‘inefficient cook stoves’ contributing to climate change and deforestation in developing countries.”
“Under that brilliant plan,” stated Judicial Watch, “villages in Africa, Asia and South America got 100 million clean-burning stoves in the name of saving the planet.”
The new $20-million plan, said Fitton, “is part of billions and billions of dollars in foreign aid that’s gone for naught in Africa. Africa is worse off after receiving decades of foreign aid than it would have been if it hadn’t.”
As for the administration trying to mobilize private investment in clean energy and sustainable development, Fitton said “it is all based on dubious science and ideology. It has nothing to do with the needs of the people of Africa, whose needs often get short shrift to social planning and environmental extremism.”