The Department of Energy recently turned over more than 1,200 pages of heavily redacted documents in response to a records request about a subsidized biofuels company from The Daily Caller News Foundation.
In October, TheDCNF filed a FOIA request with the Energy Department, asking for email records from government officials regarding federal loan guarantees given to Abengoa, a Spanish-based green energy company. The request came on the heels of reports Abengoa was running into big financial problems, despite being given generous taxpayer-backed loans.
The DOE gave TheDCNF the records it requested Dec. 18, and after spending time reviewing the documents, it’s apparent there’s a lot of information the department did not want the public to see. The DOE redacted virtually all information specific to Abengoa — in many cases whole pages were blacked out.
Reporters were mostly interested in Abengoa’s $400 million biofuels plant near Hugoton, Kansas. The company got a $132 million federal loan and a $97 million grant to build the plant, but after a year of operation the plant seemed to be having problems of its own. Despite the hype surrounding the plant, Abengoa has filed for bankruptcy and halted operations in Hugoton.
A DOE FOIA officer handed over 1,239 pages of “previously released documents, along with the response letters that accompanied them, in regards to DOE’s Abengoa project.” He added that all “personal information in the response letters has been redacted.”
DOE also redacted “capitalized interest amounts” on Abengoa’s biofuel loan, along with internal agency communications they argued fell under the “deliberative process privilege.” DOE also argued portions of the risk assessment reports on Abengoa were redacted to protect the “deliberative process” of granting federal loans.
Apparently that’s everything in Abengoa’s risk assessments except for some generic language. Here’s the heavily-redacted risk assessment DOE handed over to TheDCNF earlier this month:
DOE even redacted parts of documents discussing the production capacity of Abengoa’s Hugoton biofuel plant and how much electricity it would co-generate during operations — oddly, this exact information is publicly available on DOE’s website.
DOE’s redactions will not stop Abengoa’s bankruptcy implosion. Abengoa filed for bankruptcy protection in Spanish court earlier this month, and financial records show the company’s largest single creditor is the U.S. taxpayer.
The U.S. Federal Financing Bank held $2.3 billion in Abengoa’s debt as of Sept. 31. Taxpayers could be on the hook if the company goes under. The news has even sparked a congressional investigation.
“To put this in perspective, the Abengoa bankruptcy exposes taxpayers to losses four times greater than Solyndra, making it the largest failure of the DOE green loan program to date,” Kansas Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo wrote in a recent letter to the Treasury Department and DOE.
Pompeo has good reason to be concerned about Abengoa’s bankruptcy as its $400 million Hugoton biofuel plant is in his district. DOE said Abengoa paid back the loan for the biofuel plant in March, but the company likely did so through means outside of plant operations.
Why is that? A spokesman for Abengoa Bioenergy, which owns the plant, told TheDCNF they had not sold a single gallon of cellulosic ethanol despite the plant being up and running for a year.
Abengoa has since shut down its biofuels plant and laid off dozens of workers since they filed for bankruptcy. The company holds more than $9.8 billion in debt.
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