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State threw money at solar energy too

May 19, 2012
Salem News

It seems the federal government is not alone in squandering taxpayers' money on risky alternative energy ventures. Ohioans are on the hook, too.

Last year's debacle involving the Solyndraa solar energy company in California, which went out of business owing the government $535 million in loan guarantees, was just the tip of the iceberg. Some states have wasted money on similar questionable ventures.

Ohio may be one of them. Last week it was revealed the Ohio Development Authority plans to have an accounting firm look into Willard & Kelsey, a solar panel manufacturer in Perrysburg. The decision came after Willard & Kelsey failed to make required repayments on a $5 million loan from the authority. The company has missed two deadlines for $466,000 payments.

Willard & Kelsey is indebted to Ohio taxpayers for more than the authority loan, however. It also has received a $5 million loan - and a $500,000 grant - from the Ohio Department of Development.

Development agency officials have another concern about Willard & Kelsey, that it has failed to create the 400 new jobs called for in the loan agreement.

There may be more to the company than missed loan repayments and failure to create jobs. A former Willard & Kelsey president, fired from the company in 2009, alleged before his death last year the firm handed out lavish payments, as high as $40,000 a month, to top executives - using state loan money. The company has denied that.

At this point, officials at the two involved state agencies are worried about getting taxpayers' money back from Willard & Kelsey. To judge by the company's track record, they should be concerned. State funding for Willard & Kelsey was provided under the administration of former Gov. Ted Strickland.

Gov. John Kasich's administration should investigate that boondoggle, and look into whether other state agencies were involved in jumping too hastily on the alternative energy bandwagon still being promoted by President Barack Obama.



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