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Auditor says failed solar plant owes Mississippi $93 million

Mississippi's state auditor is formally demanding that a failed solar panel maker pay nearly $93 million that he says is owed to state and local governments, a prelude to a possible lawsuit.

Posted: Mar 21, 2018 2:15 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi's state auditor is formally demanding that a failed solar panel maker pay nearly $93 million that he says is owed to state and local governments, a prelude to a possible lawsuit.

Auditor Stacey Pickering demanded repayment in a letter he delivered Tuesday to Stion Corp., which closed its Hattiesburg plant last year. The Republican said it's the largest amount he's ever demanded to be repaid.

Stion is the latest in a series of failed green energy companies that received loans and incentives from the state. Mississippi taxpayers have lost more than $185 million from those ventures, all entered into by former Gov. Haley Barbour's administration.

The San Jose, California, company borrowed $74.8 million from Mississippi, failed to pay $2.1 million in reduced property taxes to Hattiesburg and Forrest County, and owes $16 million in interest on the state loan and property tax payments, according to Pickering's calculations.

The demand letter means Stion has 30 days to repay or face a civil lawsuit.

"Stion is just one more example of a risky investment made by Mississippi in which the company and its management did not keep their commitments," Pickering said in a Wednesday statement.

A quick repayment appears unlikely, though. Stion closed its plant in December, blaming unfair foreign competition and laying off 137 employees. The company signed over its assets to Development Specialists Inc., which is supposed to sell them and distribute money to creditors instead of Stion filing for bankruptcy.

Stion pledged the equipment in its rented Hattiesburg factory as security against Mississippi's loan. Geoffrey Berman, a senior managing director for Development Specialists, wrote to The Associated Press in an email that his company is working on selling the equipment.

"It is however unlikely that the assets will realize the full amount of the state auditor's demand," Berman wrote.

Mississippi would then have to take its place in line with other unsecured creditors, and Berman says they're not likely to get any money back. He declined to provide an estimate of Stion's total assets and debts. Berman said no creditors have received any money yet.

Stion raised more than $200 million from private investors, in addition to Mississippi's loan. It promised 1,000 jobs and $400 million investment in Hattiesburg when it announced its plans in 2011, later cutting that amount to $250 million and 500 jobs. Pickering said he doesn't know how much Stion ultimately invested.

Pickering also criticized the Mississippi Development Authority, saying documents showed the economic development agency is at fault because at one point it was doing business with a Stion predecessor that never legally registered to do business in Mississippi.

"It was not qualified to transact business within the State of Mississippi; nevertheless, it is listed as a borrower in agreements accepted and signed by MDA," the auditor's office wrote in a seven-page report examining the state's dealings with Stion.

MDA spokesman Jeff Rent said he didn't know enough to immediately respond to the criticism.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 15752

Reported Deaths: 739
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds100625
Lauderdale73862
Madison72423
Scott65012
Neshoba64639
Jones62928
Forrest56438
DeSoto5427
Rankin4398
Holmes42928
Leake42712
Copiah3124
Jackson30813
Attala29817
Yazoo2814
Newton2714
Leflore26431
Lincoln26329
Harrison2587
Monroe25725
Oktibbeha23912
Lamar2385
Lowndes2119
Pearl River20931
Wayne2041
Pike20311
Adams19915
Noxubee1866
Washington1787
Warren17310
Covington1652
Jasper1634
Bolivar16211
Lee1536
Smith15211
Kemper14411
Clarke14418
Lafayette1364
Chickasaw13512
Coahoma1254
Carroll11711
Winston1171
Marion1159
Clay1124
Claiborne1112
Lawrence1021
Simpson1010
Tate941
Grenada943
Yalobusha935
Hancock9111
Wilkinson889
Itawamba877
Montgomery851
Sunflower843
Union835
Marshall833
Jefferson Davis773
Tippah7311
Panola713
Webster692
Calhoun654
Amite641
Humphreys607
Walthall560
Tunica553
Prentiss533
Perry503
Choctaw432
Jefferson421
Pontotoc353
Quitman330
Tishomingo320
Stone300
Franklin292
Tallahatchie271
George251
Alcorn171
Benton150
Greene131
Sharkey70
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 18246

Reported Deaths: 644
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Mobile2239116
Jefferson1837102
Montgomery171040
Tuscaloosa78315
Marshall6939
Franklin5567
Lee54833
Shelby51720
Tallapoosa42765
Butler41118
Chambers35525
Walker3542
Elmore3548
Madison3394
Baldwin2909
Morgan2801
Dallas2723
Etowah25711
DeKalb2483
Lowndes24612
Coffee2361
Sumter2247
Autauga2214
Houston2204
Bullock2095
Pike2030
Colbert1842
Hale1739
Russell1710
Marengo1706
Barbour1671
Lauderdale1642
Calhoun1603
Choctaw1538
Wilcox1487
Clarke1442
Cullman1430
Randolph1277
St. Clair1231
Marion12211
Pickens1164
Dale1150
Talladega1135
Limestone1060
Chilton1011
Greene944
Winston900
Macon824
Henry802
Covington801
Jackson782
Crenshaw753
Bibb751
Washington706
Escambia633
Blount621
Lawrence500
Geneva430
Conecuh411
Coosa401
Monroe402
Perry390
Cherokee373
Clay272
Lamar260
Fayette160
Cleburne151
Unassigned00
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