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Fact check: Are half of 'green' energy firms helped by stimulus out of business?

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Story highlights

  • Mitt Romney decries "$90 billion in breaks to the green energy world"
  • He says "about half" of green firms aided by the 2009 stimulus are "out of business"
  • Despite flame-outs like Solyndra, most businesses appear to be still operational

Republican nominee Mitt Romney has frequently railed against efforts championed by President Barack Obama steering money to promote "green energy."

He continued that line of attack Wednesday night, decrying what he described as "$90 billion in breaks to the green energy world."

"These businesses, many of them have gone out of business -- I think about half of them -- of the ones that have been invested in have gone out of business," the former Massachusetts governor said.

So are Romney's assertions correct, both about the size of the "green energy" program and what happened to those companies that got money from it?

The facts:

The Department of Energy proudly touts that the 2009 stimulus authorized $90 billion "in government investments and tax incentives to lay the foundation for the clean energy economy of our future."

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    But not all that money has been spent, and not all of it -- in fact, not even half of it -- is being directed to upstart green businesses.

    Part of 2009's much larger $787 billion stimulus package, this money went toward things like the weatherization of more than 770,000 homes and cleaning 688 square miles of land formerly used for Cold War-era nuclear testing.

    Many individual companies did benefit directly. The government website that tracks stimulus spending lists 27,226 individual awards under the "Energy/Environment" section, totaling just shy of $34 billion.

    The Department of Energy this June specified "33 clean energy projects" of a larger scale as part of its "loans program." Of those, financing had been "closed" on 20 of them. The intent was to promote new technologies and approaches, not necessarily old ones.

    There are also other things such as high speed rail and smart meters -- which are listed elsewhere, under "Infrastructure," as part of the same overarching stimulus legislation. Accounting for things like that, a report from the Brookings Institution non-partisan think tank this April tabbed the total green stimulus spending at $51 billion.

    Then, there's the matter of whether half of those companies that have gotten money "have gone out of business."

    A few recipients of the government funds have hit hard times. The most well-known of them is solar panel maker Solyndra, which received a $535 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy. Two years later, it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

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    Still, it is unclear where Romney got his figure that "half" those businesses are no longer operating.

    The Energy Department cites several success stories like one of the world's largest wind farms in eastern Oregon, massive solar power plants in Arizona and grants to Ford to produce fuel-efficient cars.

    In fact, of the 28 funded projects -- involving 23 companies -- listed in a 2012 congressional report, only four involve businesses that were either sold or are not in operation.

    Conclusion:

    It is fair to say that the 2009 stimulus authorized $90 billion for green energy, as Romney asserted. Whether or not one terms these as "breaks" is subjective, and one shouldn't assume that all the funds went to specific businesses like Solyndra.

    Most of the large projects that benefited from the Department of Energy loan program remain in operation -- contrary to Romney's assertion that "almost half" of them had closed.

    Complete coverage of CNN's Fact Checks