Through this special series on green-energy crony-corruption, we’ve been highlighting specific examples of green-energy loan guarantees and grants. What connects each of these cases is that they received fast-tracked approval from the Department of Interior (DOI) for their projects. Of course, they also have many other dots that connect, such as key players with White House visits, raising funds for Democratic campaigns, and serving within government agencies such as the Department of Energy (DOE) or as an appointed member to President Obama’s Job’s Council.
Now we come to the last of our “special seven” series. Like those before it, it contains many inside players and funding from various “stimulus” government programs. While Lewis Hay (the CEO of NextEra Energy) with his White House involvement and friendship with former Florida Governor Charlie Crist make for some juicy details in the NextEra story, we’ll begin with a brief background that will help put this next piece of the green-energy crony-corruption scandal in perspective.
NextEra Energy, Inc. is one of the oldest, third largest, and arguably one of the most solid power companies in the world, with “2011 revenues [that] totaled more than $15.3 billion.” It is estimated by Forbes, that CEO “Hay earns nearly $10 million in total compensation from NextEra.”
NextEra Energy Inc. has two primary subsidiaries:
With its wealth and widespread influence, the DOE gave this huge energy conglomerate nearly $2 billion of taxpayer money, which includes the two risky projects listed below, plus hundreds of millions more in various stimulus grants.
Desert Sunlight: $1.2 billion
In September 2011, the DOE approved a $1.2 billion loan guarantee for the junk-rated Desert Sunlight project in California. A day after the loan was approved, First Solar, the project developer/owner sold Desert Sunlight to NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, the competitive energy subsidiary of NextEra Energy, Inc. and GE Energy Financial Services. Both CEO's are on President Obama's Job Council: Lewis Hay of NextEra Energy and Jeffrey Immelt of GE. (Immelt is another top Obama donor, donating $529,855 to his 2008 campaign. Note: GE has raked in more than $3 billion of stimulus money, and counting.)
Genesis Solar Project: $681.6 million
But as we reported in the beginning of this series, the Desert Sunlight Project is not the only large DOE “risky” loan that NextEra secured. NextEra Energy Resources also received $681.6 million from the DOE for its Genesis Solar project in Blythe, California. This was one of the few DOE 1705 loans that were not considered junk rated, as S&P placed it at a “lower medium grade.”
Remember that the common denominator of these “special seven” projects was a “fast-tracked DOI approval?” The policy has come back to bite the projects.
According to the Los Angeles Times (LAT), “The $1-billion Genesis Solar Energy Project has been expedited by state and federal regulatory agencies that are eager to demonstrate that the nation can build solar plants quickly to ease dependence on fossil fuels and curb global warming. Instead, the project is providing a cautionary example of how the rush to harness solar power in the desert can go wrong—possibly costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and dealing an embarrassing blow to the Obama administration's solar initiative.”
The problem is the “expedited” process may endanger the whole project. The House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform’s March 20, 2012 report says, “To expedite site approval, NextEra opted for a less thorough process.” As a result, the site “encroached on the habitat of the endangered kit foxes.” NextEra had to move the foxes prior to grading the site. “Ultimately, seven foxes died from NextEra’s removal process.”
Additionally, there have been concerns of desert tortoises and a “prehistoric human settlement.”
But warring factions within the environmental movement also plague the NextEra Genesis Solar project.
A small environmental group, the Wildlands Conservancy, raised $45 million to preserve 600,000 acres of the Mojave Desert—with the intent that it would be protected forever. The LAT reports, the Wildlands Conservancy bought the land and deeded it to the federal government only to have 50,000 acres of that bequest opened up for solar development. April Sall, the organization’s conservation director says, the group is “watching this big conservation legacy practically go under a bulldozer.” Sall’s group and others are feeling “burned by the rush to build solar projects.”
The small environmental groups are trying to fight utility-scale solar projects while the big national groups, such as the Sierra Club, have “scolded” some of the local chapters for opposing the projects. A national office directive instructed local chapters to “fall in line.”
Michael O'Sullivan, senior vice president of development for NextEra Energy Resources, says that “the problems threaten the entire project” and “the project could become uneconomical.”
If that were to happen, the LAT explains, “80% of the project's outstanding loans would be covered by the federal government, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management would begin shopping for another renewable energy company that was interested in leasing the property. If there were no takers, the scarred land would be restored with reclamation bond funds.”
Smart-Grid and Wind Energy Grants
In October 2009, Florida Power & Light (FLP) was awarded the maximum grant amount of $200 milllion for Energy Smart Florida. Interestingly, this is connected to Silver Spring Networks, one of Kleiner Perkins shining green companies, where John Doerr (another jobs council member that was influential in what went into the energy-sector of the 2009-stimulus) and Al Gore are partners, of which their 2008 $75 million investment had scored over $700 million.
The DOE started dishing out billions from the Smart Grid Investment Grant Program (part of the stimulus plan) in August 2009 and awarded select utility companies for particular smart-grid projects––close to sixty percent of Silver Spring “customers” were winners.
In fact, Florida Power and Light, Silver Spring, General Electric, and a few others have joined forces on a Smart Grid Miami project, which was announced in 2009.
(Note: if you are not familiar with the Smart Grid, Brian Sussman’s book Eco-Tyranny offers an overview which includes this: “President Obama cleverly sold it like this: ‘We want to invest in the next-generation of high-speed wireless coverage for 98 percent of Americans. This isn’t just about a faster Internet or being able to friend someone on Facebook. It’s about connecting every corner of America to the digital age.’ The digital age Obama spoke of is the age of Big Brother monitoring your carbon footprint. The Smart Grid’s interactive broadband capability will enable your home’s PCT, HAN, and smart meter to be connected and communicating with your utility provider. Once complete, the utility company will be your government-sponsored Big Brother, constantly monitoring and regulating your carbon footprint. With a bureaucratic keystroke any electrical device in your home could be selectively turned off—or on—without your approval.”)
Also, you'll be “blown away” by the billions ($4.4) of “wind energy grants” that blew out of the stimulus package back in February 2010. General Electric is connected to at least 26% of these wind energy grants as the “Turbine Manufacturer.” NextEra is the “project owner” and the recipient of a $99.9 million grant for a wind project in Colorado.
So, NextEra Energy, a multi-billion dollar company with a CEO who’s paid multi-millions, gets government grants and loan guarantees worth billions for risky projects that you and I wouldn’t have voluntarily invested in that even the environmentalists can’t agree on.
Despite the fact that NextEra CEO Hay was actually a “major political contributor to Sen. John McCain,” Hay quickly learned which side his bread was buttered on. (FPL employees and PACs have been known to give generously to both sides including $18,800 to Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign.) On October 8, 2009, Hay dined at the White House in an intimate lunch “with President Barack Obama and a handful of other Fortune 500 executives.” Hay reportedly “boasted to the president about FPL Group’s environmental achievements and Florida Power & Light’s plans to open the nation’s largest solar power plant.” He also “discussed his belief that forward-looking, clean-energy policies are vital to America’s economic recovery and FPL Group’s strong support for legislation to combat global warming and strengthen America’s energy security.”
The opportunity to grandstand obviously worked. Later, in the same month, Hay’s FPL’s DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center in Aracadia, Florida, provided Obama with the perfect backdrop for his announcement about the “nation’s biggest investment in clean energy.” The press release from the White House said: “President Barack Obama today announced the largest single energy grid modernization investment in U.S. history, funding a broad range of technologies that will spur the nation’s transition to a smarter, stronger, more efficient and reliable electric system. … The $3.4 billion in Smart Grid Investment Grant awards are part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.”
While the announcement regarding the smart-grid grant disbursement was like “Christmas morning” for the 100 recipients, FPL received the maximum $200 million grant, as previously addressed, “to buy 2.6 million new smart utility meters to be placed in homes over the next two years and invest in other technology aimed at cutting energy costs.” And those risky loan guarantees issued to NextEra for the Desert Sunlight and Genesis Solar projects were approved after Obama’s “stimulus PR swing” appearance at FPL’s DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center.
Hay and FPL have a long history of political contributions and have a “cozy relationship” with career politician former Governor Charlie Crist—Republican turned Independent to run against Marco Rubio in 2010, only to lose. In June 2009, FPL and its executives donated more than $36,000 to Crist’s Senate campaign, and Hay was an invited guest at Crist’s December 2008 wedding. While, we don’t know if Hay actually attended the Crist wedding, we do know that he donated to Marco Rubio’s 2010 campaign––what a difference two years make.
Thomas Saporito, an energy consultant and former FPL employee is quoted as saying: “It certainly appears to me that Gov. Crist and certain PSC Commissioners have a very cozy relationship with FPL at a time when FPL is seeking an unprecedented $1.3-billion dollar rate increase.” Crist announced his opposition to FPL's rate hike but objections were limited to a press release and a few comments to reporters.
Keeping with the “cozy relationship” model of doing business, Hay joined wealthy Democratic donors on Obama’s Jobs Council in 2011—of which at least five members have direct ties (two indirect) to firms that were awarded billions of clean-energy stimulus money and four are confirmed Obama donors.
Since the creation of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, the members have pushed for renewable energy subsidies. In October 2011, these Obama advisors who’ve financially benefited from green energy projects—such as Hay—issued a report calling for among other things, “a new federal financing program to attract private investment for clean energy projects via loan guarantees and other tools.”
Hay is just one of the many Council members with green energy connections. Citigroup’s Richard Parsons with ties to SolarReserve, , GE’s Jeffrey Immelt and its $3 billion of green-government subsidies, as well as John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins ,withmore than fifty percent of its Greentech Portfolio having received money from the energy-sector of the stimulus package and through other government programs approved by the Obama administration.
These Jobs Council members (known for their “job outsourcing”) —and others—who’ve benefited from the deal making, deserve a more thorough (forthcoming) exposé. We’ll call it “Spreading the Wealth to Obama’s Wealthy Jobs Council Members.”
Author’s note: Thanks to Christine Lakatos, the Green Corruption blogger, for research assistance. Unless project-specific funding is raised, this will be the last in the green-energy crony-corruption series.