Coal in the Tribune

The Tribune posted I piece I wrote on the coal plant yesterday. (Available online here.)

Since there was a bit of a lag between submission and publication, there have been a few updates to the Article.

First, City Manager, John Lawton, has indicated that the 25% ownership figure is a "projected" figure. (They certainly don't say anything about these 'projections' in their literature.) As noted in the earlier piece, the idea of "projected" ownership raises its own questions.

He has also indicated that Electric City Power, Inc., the City's utility, has not been involuntarily dissolved. According to the Secretary of State, though, it has.

This is not to say, however, that there are no significant questions remaining. There are.

First, where are the documents and records? I was promised these records on December 15, 2006, by Coleen Balazarini's staff, and I haven't heard a word since.

Second, why are we doing an "independent engineering study" now? What did the underwriters see that made them require this? Don't give me this "due diligence" stuff. You do your due diligence well before you spend $3,000,000.00.

Third, what are the City's intentions about residential customers? Don't be coy. Tell us.

Fourth, what are Coleen Balzarini's qualifications to be the head of a power utility? What about the fact that this utility has been losing money since it started?

Fifth, what are the risks? How have they been anticipated, and what steps have been taken to mitigate them?

Finally, as long as we're at it, a new concern, similar to an old one. It has to do with ownership. As noted above, Mr. Lawton indicated that we will be projected as 25% owners. I raised questions about the documents controlling that ownership interest.

As I went back through my notes, there is another issue related to this point. Mr. Lawton referenced some numbers in the January 16, 2007, City Commission meeting. He said that we have $515,000.00 invested in our joint venture with SME, which he claims has a net worth of $6,000,000.00. So, are we owners of SME, or are we in a joint venture relationship with this other company, SME?

He also indicated that we have another $1,070,000.00 invested in the Highwood Generating Station. He said SME has $7,000,000.00 invested in it. Over $8,000,000.00 has already been invested in the power plant? Who owns the power plant? SME, or the joint venture between Electric City Power, Inc., and SME?

It's really not all that complicated if one has access to all of the various, executed agreements. We don't. But we're trying.

UPDATE: I have a correction to make. In the original piece that the Tribune ran yesterday, I stated: "A local accountant has suggested that it [Electric City Power] has lost nearly $2,000,000.00 since its inception." That is not accurate. What the accountant, Mr. Rezentes, said was that ECP has lost over $600,000.00 since the beginning of fiscal year 2006. I apologize for mis-reading his piece.


free thought said...

I believe that Jefferson was right when he said (essentially) that the only check on government is its people, and they can only act as a check when they are fully informed. Therefore, I applaud your search for information.

But I think a different view suits this situation better (I think Jefferson and President Kennedy stated variations of this). That is, a just government does not fear a knowledgeable populus. When the government covers up its actions, it is usually for fear that the people would not stand for the hidden action.

With that in mind, when do you quit beating your head agaist the wall, and start opposing the coal plant?

WolfPack said...

This is a huge project and huge investment. Why haven't they hired an expert to oversee this project? Just handing it off to the city accountant is hugely amateurish. A professional in the startup power plant field would have answered all of our questions as a routine reporting matter. Instead we have Balzarini blindly feeling her way through it and being tight lipped so that we can’t see how sausage is made. With the city potentially on the hook for over $100 million shouldn’t we spend a few hundred thousand upfront to hire real management talent, experienced in the energy field to make sure our interests are protected?

I like the idea of the plant. I just don’t like the way Lawton is taking it forward. His strange handling of all efforts the city has taken to get into the power business makes me nervous. First with an embarrassingly low ball offer he tried to buy the wire side of power with no explanation as to how this would help GF citizens. He also tried to enter the street lighting segment of the power business but ended up paying the power company (that he was accusing of over charging) to do the work because of city misestimates in the upfront analysis it didn’t make sense for the city to do it themselves anymore.

This project is so big that I think a new temporary position on an even level with Lawton’s and reporting to the commission should be created to ensure we get our money’s worth. Separating it from Lawton’s oversight would let city departments get their eye back on the ball and get back to the routine city matters they were setup for.