As a controversial federal agency prepares extensive taxpayer support for green energy companies in India, one such company has hired a former top official at the agency who has helped it secure millions in taxpayer-backed financing.
Diane Farrell, who served on the Board of Directors of the U.S. Export-Import Bank and was a Democratic congressional candidate in Connecticut, will join the board of Indian solar company Azure Power, according to a Thursday press release.
The move came days before the Obama administration announced plans to expand U.S. support for India’s solar industry, which will include extensive U.S. taxpayer backing for companies such as Azure.
"Diane's appointment will strengthen company's policy making and advocacy expertise," Azure said in its statement. Chief executive Inderpreet Wadhwa cited Farrell’s "illustrious career [in] strategic policy making."
Farrell’s public sector experience, and her subsequent position at a division of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that seeks to increase business ties with India, could give Azure a leg up in securing some of the $1 billion in Ex-Im loans for Indian companies purchasing U.S.-made solar power technology.
Farrell’s work has already benefitted the company. At Ex-Im, she steered nearly $16 million in taxpayer-backed financing to Azure for the purchase of solar panels manufactured by Arizona-based First Solar.
First Solar, a politically connected beneficiary of other Obama administration energy policies, is expected to be one of the main beneficiaries of Ex-Im loans to Indian solar companies.
Farrell, a Democrat, ran unsuccessfully for a House of Representatives seat in Connecticut in 2004 and 2006. President George W. Bush appointed her to Ex-Im’s Board of Directors in 2007.
In that capacity, agency records show, Farrell voted to approve a $15,776,702 loan to Azure for the purchase of photovoltaic solar panels from based First Solar and a California-based subsidiary of German company SMA Solar.
At the same meeting, Ex-Im’s board voted to approve financing for a Singaporean company’s purchase of equipment from aerospace giant Boeing, a frequent beneficiary of Ex-Im support. Farrell, whose husband is a Boeing executive, recused herself from that vote and others that benefitted the company.
Ex-Im’s charter forbids agency officials from "participat[ing] in the deliberation upon or the determination of any question affecting such individual's personal interests."
However, the "revolving door" between Ex-Im and the companies and trade associations that benefit from the goodies the agency provides remains a common practice that critics say raises ethical questions.
"Only in Washington is it considered acceptable for someone to use their taxpayer-funded position to funnel more than $15 million to a corporation and then join that corporation’s board to seek even more taxpayer money," said Dan Holler, a spokesman for Heritage Action for America and a frequent Ex-Im critic.
"This reeks of favoritism and is yet another reason why Congress must allow Ex-Im to expire this year," Holler said in an email.
Heritage Action and other Ex-Im detractors are also frequent critics of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which they say promotes policies, including Ex-Im loans, that allow large corporations to extract favors from federal lawmakers and regulators.
Farrell’s move feeds that criticism. After four years at Ex-Im, she was appointed to the U.S.-India Business Council, an advocacy group linked to the Chamber that promotes greater business ties between the two countries.
Both groups are staunch supporters of the Ex-Im Bank, and represent numerous companies that benefit from its taxpayer-backed financing.
Ex-Im recently beefed up its ties to the green energy industry. It appointed an executive of a prominent solar firm to lead structured finance at the agency, and tapped the head of a wind energy trade association and a former senior Environmental Protection Agency official for positions on its advisory board.
Companies such as First Solar are expected to benefit from its increasing focus on green energy. Their ability to secure taxpayer-backed financing could revive complaints that the industry is too reliant on federal support.
According to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, First Solar has "gained a unique advantage relative to its peers by mastering its relationship with government."