Will Massachusetts’ Evergreen Solar secrets go to the grave with it?

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Now that Evergreen Solar is filing for bankruptcy, the question of why Massachusetts ever thought the failing solar upstart was a good investment – and why the state should be in risky green energy investing at all – seems a pretty pertinent one. Unfortunately, some state agencies seem determined to make sure whatever lessons could be learned from the disaster won’t see the light of day. In particular, the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development has dragged its feet an inexcusably long time for getting even basic information on the background of the $58 million in investments, incentives and aid.

On March 10, 2011, I filed a series of three public records requests with that agency requesting:

  • Documents that analyze potential investments in Evergreen Solar from the Executive Office.
  • Documents that analyze the solar energy industry from the office more generally.
  • Documents that demonstrate any solar industry work experience from within the Executive Office.

Before even that, on January 15, I had submitted an even simpler request: A copy of a contract between the Executive Office of Economic Development and MassBusiness (also known as the BDC Capital), the private development company backed by state guarantees.

While my requests have been confirmed as received (after a month of follow up calls), no responses came within the 10-day statutory deadline, nor in the hundreds of days since. The only response I have received was a short e-mail:

Hi Michael,

I received your voice mail.  We are processing your three requests and we respond as soon as possible.

Maureen Flynn
General Counsel
EOHED
Ph. 617-788-3672

Hi Michael,
I received your voice mail.  We are processing your three requests and we respond as soon as possible.
Maureen Flynn
General Counsel
EOHED
Ph. 617-788-3672

While the delays may be due more to incompetence or administrative error rather than an effort to conceal damning information or an atmosphere of impunity when it comes to toothless state public record laws, we might get a hint of the depth of experience based on the response from another agency to a similar query: A request for documents detailing solar experience sent to the  Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and then on to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center came back stating, as straight faced as an e-mail can be, that the Clean Energy Center has no documents demonstrating any employees employed during 2007 had any direct or even indirect work experience relating to the solar industry.

As long as I’m awarding darts, there are some laurels that must be mentioned: The Clean Energy Center, the same agency which helpfully volunteered that it had no documents demonstrating solar industry experience, provided 447 pages of materials regarding grants made to Evergreen Solar, commendably waiving fees. MassDevelopment also about 1,000 pages of grant analysis materials, waiving fees.

Now it’s time for the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development to step up to the plate and do their part to ensure that the mistakes of Evergreen Solar aren’t repeated in the future.