This solar energy deal sure seems shady.
Apparently there is no freedom of information when it concerns a public utility. Attempts to learn how CPS Energy came to ink a deal with South Korean company Nexolon OCI Solar have so far been rebuffed. While CPS insiders try to paint the project as just a simple power purchase agreement, there is (thankfully) still persistent interest in learning more details about the deal.
Why the lack of transparency? If a public utility can hide behind a wall of non-disclosure when using taxpayer money to consort with foreign firms, what does this mean for the future? It seems that the stream of “freedom of information” only flows one direction — when the government seeks information on you, you become as transparent as an image on a TSA screen. Exactly what will the South Korean company – backed by its government – have access to?
Dangerous precedents here, as reported by Nolan Hicks.
With all the questions and controversy surrounding city-owned CPS Energy’s massive solar project, surprisingly little is known about the deal the utility struck with the consortium it selected to build the project.
That agreement, and the secrecy that surrounds it, has come under increasing scrutiny because of continuing questions about financial health of Nexolon Co. Ltd., the parent company of the project’s key supplier, Nexolon America LLC.
CPS has refused to release its contract with OCI Solar Power — a U.S. subsidiary of South Korea-based chemical giant OCI Co. Ltd. — to build the project. The utility also has refused to provide its analysis of the financial health of Nexolon and OCI, which has faced its own financial difficulties recently.
That stance rankles Andrew Wheat, research director at Texans for Public Justice, an Austin-based government watchdog group.
“If you want to argue that your contract with a public entity is a proprietary trade secret, then you shouldn’t be doing deals with a public entity because it’s our money,” Wheat said.
CPS is fighting the Express-News’ request to obtain the records under the state’s open records laws, claiming in a letter it sent to the Texas Attorney General’s office that the documents contain proprietary information and should be exempt from release.
Explaining CPS’ position, spokeswoman Lisa Lewis said: “If you conduct all the business in public, you won’t get the same value that a private company could.”
Financial reports show Nexolon Co. lost $60 million during the first six months of 2012, carried a heavy debt load and had less than $20 million in cash as of June 30, 2012.
Those difficulties have raised questions about Nexolon’s ability to build and operate the solar panel manufacturing plant it promised in exchange for a hefty package of economic incentives from the city. Company officials, however, say there’s no reason for concern.
The package included a generous land deal that gave Nexolon a $12 million discount on a $17 million piece of land at Brooks City-Base where the plant will be built. The Brooks Development Authority’s board, which is appointed by City Council, approved the deal after the city offered assurances it would invest $12 million in the former Air Force base’s infrastructure to cover the difference.
But the contracts that bind the three firms in the project are cloaked by non-disclosure agreements.
“People who do business with the public’s money have to be transparent; what part of ‘it’s our money’ do you not understand?” Wheat asked rhetorically. “Let’s have a little sunshine on this solar project.”
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UPDATE: Some people never learn: Germany and Spain are backing off the green energy subsidies