Solar energy subsidies: sticky wicket for Tea Party recipient?

Solar energy tax credits benefited firms owned by Tea Party Republican running for the US Senate. But Mark Neumann, who decries Obama stimulus plan, got the solar energy credits under President Bush.

Dan Currier/Reuters/File
Mark Neumann (shown here after losing a 1998 US Senate race in Wisconsin) is a Tea Party candidate for a US Senate seat in 2012. He decries the Obama stimulus but defends the solar tax credits installed under the Bush administration, which have benefited his solar-energy companies.

Solar energy companies owned by a tea party Republican running for an open U.S. Senate seat in Wisconsin who is strongly opposed to the 2009 federal stimulus package have received $500,000 in grants under the program.

The Associated Press first reported Thursday that GOP candidate Mark Neumann's company Neumann SolarLeasing received about $81,000 in grants last year. But Neumann said Friday that company and another one, MN Solar Leasing, had gotten even more in stimulus grants and other tax credits.

The U.S. Treasury Department confirmed Friday that MN Solar Leasing got nearly $418,000 in stimulus grants. Additionally, Neumann said the two companies collectively have received another $250,000 in income tax credits under the Bush tax credits.

Neumann, who is one of three Republican candidates running for an open U.S. Senate seat, has been a loud critic of the 2009 stimulus program enacted by Congress as a way to spur economic investment in the midst of a recession. In his 2010 campaign for governor, Neumann said he would devote any Wisconsin stimulus money to tax cuts and reducing the state's debt.

Neumann is being challenged for the GOP nomination by former Gov. Tommy Thompson and state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald. U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin is the only Democrat in the race to replace retiring Democratic U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl.

Neumann repeated his argument Friday that because the grant program he benefited from started as a Bush-era tax credit, it shouldn't be viewed as part of the 2009 economic stimulus law signed by President Barack Obama.

The grants came under the so-called 1603 Treasury program, which provides cash worth 30 percent of costs for renewable projects.

Neumann's solar energy companies applied for and received the grants because having the money upfront was more beneficial than waiting for the tax credit, Neumann said. Another Neumann company, SunVestSolar, signed a letter sent to congressional leaders in November urging continuation of the stimulus grant program, but it expired at the end of the year.

Neumann had said Thursday his companies got more than the $81,000 but he didn't immediately know how much more. On Friday, Neumann contacted the AP and said he looked it up and his companies had gotten $750,000 in tax credits and grants.

Neumann said the incentives have helped his companies invest $2.5 million in Wisconsin projects and create about 50 jobs.

"We have very successful companies," Neumann said. "I'm happy to reinvest the money."

Neumann Solar Leasing, which has since been combined with MN Solar Leasing, buys and owns solar equipment and then either sells the electricity generated to the end user or leases the equipment.

Federal funding for renewable energy programs has come under criticism because of questions surrounding Solyndra LLC, a California solar company that received a $528 million federal loan and later declared bankruptcy, prompting a federal investigation. Republicans in Congress have targeted Obama's clean energyprogram, calling Solyndra an example of 'crony capitalism.'

Neumann has been a vocal critic of the federal stimulus as he tries to position himself as the most conservative candidate in the race. He has won the support of national conservative group the Club for Growth.

"The Club adamantly opposed the stimulus and continues to believe it is an utterly failed policy," said the group's spokesman Barney Keller. "However, we have never taken the position that a private company that's eligible should reject funding."

A spokesman for Thompson and a spokeswoman for Fitzgerald declined comment.

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