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Salazar approved solar project a bust

Almost a year ago to the day the Department of Interior issued a press release boasting that Secretary Ken Salazar had “approved the first large-scale solar energy plants ever to be built on public lands.”

As with Obama administration renewable energy initiatives, there were the promises of massive amounts of electrical power and “green jobs.”

the U.S.-based companies [will have] access to almost 6,800 acres of public lands for 30 years to build and operate solar plants that could produce up to 754 megawatts of renewable energy, or enough to power 226,000 – 566,000 typical American homes. The projects will generate almost 1,000 new jobs.

One of the major players was Arizona-based Stirling Energy Systems out of Scottsdale, which was to provide the technology for Tessera Solar of Texas to move forward with the massive Imperial Valley Solar Project in Imperial County, California.

What a difference a year makes. Stirling Energy Systems (SES), a manufacturer of mirrored solar dishes, just filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy meaning it will close its doors, cease all operations, and liquidate any remaining assets.

Warning signs appeared shortly after Salazar’s announcement. In December 2010, GreenTech Media reported in an article titled “Are Stirling Energy, Tessera Solar in Trouble?”

Days after getting an administrative reprieve for a massive solar project, things aren’t looking so hot for Stirling Energy Systems and its development partner, Tessera Solar.

Steve Cowman, who was the CEO at SES until recently, has left the company, as have a number of other executives. Meanwhile, Tessera laid off between 50% to 80% of its employees last month, according to sources. Rumors began percolating about problems at the companies, which work together and are part of an Irish conglomerate called NTR, last month.

Despite a $7 million grant from the federal government, SES needed more cash and couldn’t secure it. Kirk Busch, “chairman of AZ4Solar.org, a Tempe-based trade group that advocates solar energy” and creditor of SES, told Arizona Central that the math didn’t add up and neither did the technology. Busch called it “still a science project.”

AZCentral reports that SES lists $1 to $10 million in assets and $50 to $100 million in liabilities, with hundreds of creditors.

The Imperial Valley Solar Project has changed hands twice and is also plagued by lawsuits including one from Native Americans who claim the project will harm sacred cultural sites. The future of the project, which appeared uncertain back in June, now has gotten darker.

Another green project with federal backing gone bust.

Thank you to a reader who provided the SES bankruptcy tip. If you have an energy story or tip, email amy@i2i.org.