It’s been well over a year since Doug McLeod resigned as Maui County Energy Commissioner and formed his own consulting firm (DKK Energy Services LLC), after holding down the post for four years. The county didn’t exactly rush to replace McLeod–in fact, they only announced their new energy commissioner–Frederick Redell–on April Fools’ Day of this year.
“Frederick Redell will bring a fresh perspective and a lot of knowledge to this important position,” Mayor Alan Arakawa said in an April 1 news release from his office. “His number one job will be to keep the county moving forward on our goal of achieving 100 percent renewable energy and to make sure that costs to ratepayers are contained.”
In the news release, Office of Economic Development Director Teena Rasmussen said that county officials went through a “rigorous selection process” that saw 10 candidates getting vetted (after 15 months, it damn well better have been rigorous, though it’s not like county officials have been searching the entire time–in fact, they only posted the job description in January of this year). Here’s how the Arakawa Administration described Redell, a licensed mechanical engineer, in their Apr. 1 news release: “Redell is currently the Managing Director of Abengoa Solar in Lakewood, Colorado,” states the news release. “Prior to that he managed his own engineering firm in California. His energy career started when he was enlisted in the U.S. Navy, taking part in their Nuclear Power Training Program and serving in the submarine service.”
It’s Redell’s work at Abengoa that makes him such a fascinating hire. See, Abengoa–a Spanish firm–is something of a controversial name right now in the renewable energy world.
Though trumpeted by President Barack Obama in 2010 for its arrival in the U.S. to build solar plants, Abengoa is currently in the midst of tough times.
“Saddled with debt from its expansion, the company is scrambling to avoid what would be the largest bankruptcy in Spanish corporate history,” The New York Times reported on Mar. 17, 2016. “Creditors and shareholders are taking the company to court as losses mount and crucial financial support disappears.”
Abengoa has a 42-percent stake in a company that runs two solar plants in the U.S.–in Gila Bend, Arizona and Barstow, California–according to the Times’ article.
“The plants, known as Solana and Mojave, have drawn criticism for years over the American government’s backing,” the Times reported. “The projects were partly financed by $605 million in federal grants and tax credits, according to Good Jobs First, a research center that tracks public subsidies. Abengoa also received a combined $2.9 billion in loan guarantees from the United States.”
What’s more, the company is facing “lawsuits in the United States and Spain from shareholders and creditors,” according to the Times. “The suits make a variety of claims, with one accusing the company of misleading investors about downplaying its capital needs and another accusing individual executives of acting against investor interests” (a company spokesperson declined to comment to the Times on the lawsuits).
On top of all that, the Gila Bend solar plant–known as Solana–doesn’t seem to be working all that well. In fact, Phoenix New Times has been reporting on the plant’s “underwhelming” performance since November 2014.
“Although published reports and government documents about the plant all predicted its output would be about 900,000 megawatt-hours per year, and Solana had only produced 600,000 megawatt-hours in its first year, officials said the lower output was expected because time was needed to work out the kinks of the system,” New Times reported on June 16, 2015.
Six months later, Solana was still underperforming.
“As New Times first reported, the plant’s electricity generation has been underwhelming since it opened,” New Times reported on Dec. 2, 2015. “It produced only two-thirds of expected capacity in its first year of operation and only half its expected output for the first three months of this year. Officials with Abengoa and Arizona Public Service told New Times that generation would improve over time.”
Redell starts work at the county on May 15.
Photo of the Solana plant in Arizona: Abengoa Solar/Wikimedia Commons