Energy

US Taxpayers Hold Over $2 Billion In This Failing Green Energy Company

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Michael Bastasch Energy Editor

Abengoa, one of Spain’s green energy companies, is on the verge of bankruptcy. Its single largest creditor: U.S. taxpayers.

The government-owned U.S. Federal Financing Bank (FFB) is Abengoa’s largest single creditor, with a total exposure of 2.2 billion euros, or $2.34 billion, at the end of September, according to the Spanish news outlet Expansion.

The FFB’s exposure in Abengoa is “exclusively in financing of projects” as part of President Barack Obama’s green loans program through the Department of Energy, according to Expansion. Specifically, Abengoa was using the more than $2 billion in DOE loan guarantees to build two large solar plants in the American southwest.

Abengoa, which Bloomberg referred to as Spain’s “Teetering Sun King,” got $2.7 billion in DOE loan guarantees since 2010 for two solar projects and a massive cellulosic biofuels plant that has yet to announce production levels or sell any product if produces. These projects were FFB-financed and only one project, the biofuel plant, has been fully repaid, according to DOE data.

Abengoa asked Spanish courts for creditor protection Friday with $9.4 billion in gross debt, according to Bloomberg News, and the company now has four months to come to an agreement with creditors. It’s unclear if the FFB holds just $2 billion in Abengoa’s debt or the 2.3 from September’s report, since they did not respond to an inquiry from The Daily Caller News Foundation. Nevertheless, they remain the largest creditor to the imploding green energy firm.

FFB’s latest financials show it dumped nearly $361 million in DOE green energy loan holdings from September to October, and the bank reset the interest rates for six DOE-backed loans. Even all that $361 million came from reduced holdings in Abengoa, the FFB would still be the company’s largest creditor. The next largest creditor, Santander, holds about $1.65 billion. The FFB is overseen by the Treasury Department.

Abengoa’s file for protection from creditors comes after months of bad news for the green energy company, culminating in a failed merger with the engineering firm Gestamp. Abengoa began bankruptcy proceedings in Spain Friday, just days after the company’s CEO resigned.

If Abengoa declares bankruptcy, it will be the biggest failure of a DOE loan recipient to date. The DOE’s green loan program has already seen three major bankruptcies in the last few years by companies that got millions from taxpayers.

“The government money fueled Abengoa’s growth,” Daniel Simmons, vice president for policy at the free market Institute for Energy Research, told The Washington Times. “They fueled their desire to take on more debt. It’s now obvious they have a very serious debt problem.”

Obama once hailed Abengoa’s Solana solar energy project as an engine for economic growth and clean energy. The president said in 2010 “this plant will be the first large-scale solar plant in the U.S. to actually store the energy it generates for later use” and “it will generate enough clean, renewable energy to power 70,000 homes.”

Abengoa got nearly $1.5 billion for its Solana solar plant, but the project has been under-producing energy. The Times reported Solana only generated “about 603,567 megawatt hours of electricity in 2014 as opposed to the projected 900,000 megawatt hours.”

Abengoa also got a $132 million DOE loan guarantee in 2011, along with a $97 million grant, to build an ethanol plant near Hugoton, Kansas. The plant is supposed to produce 25 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year, but while Abengoa claims to have produced significant volumes of cellulosic ethanol” they have not sold any of their biofuels.

DOE loans and grants helped finance more than half the cost of Abengoa’s $400 million ethanol plant, and the government reports Abengoa paid back its loan guarantee for the project in full in March 2015.

“What is troubling is that if there are large projects that private-sector people think they’ll be able to make money on, there’s no need to take those projects to a government,” Simmons said. “That’s where these projects go wrong: thinking governments will necessarily make good investment decisions.”

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