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Beacon Power-less: Another clean energy mess

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With the demise of Beacon Power, Massachusetts has the dubious distinction of steering scarce state dollars to not one, but two, failed clean energy companies, firms that also pulled in significant federal stimulus grants and loan guarantees.



Beacon Power filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last weekend. Marlborough-based Evergreen Solar sought relief from creditors in August and is still hashing out objections over the auctioning of its remaining assets.

Tyngsborough-based Beacon secured a $5 million loan from MassDevelopment, a $24 million federal stimulus grant, and a $43 million US Department of Energy loan guarantee. Granted, that’s a few hundred million shy of the $535 million in federal funding that the bankrupt California solar firm Solyndra won. But in these tough, tax-averse times, a “few” million is nothing to sneeze at.

The clean energy debacle has supplied Republicans with more brickbats to hurl at President Obama. US Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, intends to file a bill that would require independent audits of all Energy Department loan guarantees.

Then there’s the thorny question of campaign contributions. Two Bay State Democrats may join the president in the green power dog house. According to The Weekly Standard, US Rep. Niki Tsongas and Attorney General Martha Coakley received campaign contributions from Beacon Power CEO F. William Capp. (Tyngsboro is in Tsongas’s district.) The Beacon Power chief also donated to the president’s 2008 campaign. Other company officials also gave money to either Tsongas or Coakley. The company’s chief lobbyist was a former aide to the late senator Ted Kennedy.

Beacon Power’s claim to fame is its flywheel energy storage technology that captures excess power from electrical grids and returns it to the grids on demand. The process is viewed as the next step in capturing and storing electricity from intermittent energy sources like wind and solar.

But Beacon Power was not an attractive prospect for investors, which contributed to its stock prices tumbling to below $1 per share. That development forced Nasdaq to banish the firm from the stock exchange.

Massachusetts still hopes to collect on the more than $3 million outstanding on the state’s investment, according to the Boston Herald. Unlike Evergreen and Solyndra, Beacon Power plans to reorganize and continues its manufacturing operations. The state loan also used those assets as collateral, the Herald noted.

Under the terms of the Beacon Power loan, the federal government is also first in line to get its debts repaid. That’s not the case with Solyndra: its private sector creditors get first dibs. (Stay tuned for more embarrassing revelations on Solyndra as the Energy Department inspector general testifies on Capitol Hill today.)

If these losses weren’t bad enough, there could be even bigger financial meltdowns on the energy sector horizon. The Obama administration has distributed billions in loan guarantees to nuclear power companies. “We have one loan guarantee for $8.3 billion for a nuclear reactor – that could be far worse if there were a default,” a fiscal analyst told The Christian Science Monitor. 

                                                                                                                            --GABRIELLE GURLEY


BEACON HILL

State officials took oversight of the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative, the Lowell Sun reports.

The Senate and House approved new legislative district maps and sent the plan to the governor, the Lowell Sun reports.

Mo Cunningham mulls over our insider political culture in his latest CommonWealth column.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Herogate? Some witnesses say the Boston firefighter credited with catching a six-year-old dropped from a third-story window of a burning Roxbury building wasn’t the only one to snag Xavier Lara, and that a building resident deserves to share the limelight with Lieutenant Glenn McGillivray, who received a department service award and appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres show.

Some Mattapoisett selectmen are balking at proposed aquaculture regulations that would restrict shellfish farming in shallow tidal waters.

The new billing alert system in the Brockton water department -- which has in the past sent bills of several hundred thousand dollars to residents -- worked like a charm when it caught the bill for Brockton High School for $678,000, about $650,000 higher than normal.

Peter Gelzinis gives a big hug to Felix Arroyo.

OCCUPY

Because that’s just what they do, US News & World Report has the top 10 list of best cities to occupy, with the rankings based on a mix of youth, culture, income inequality, and business. Meanwhile, members of the Occupy Wall Street finance committee (there has to be a joke in there somewhere) announced they have collected nearly $500,000 in online and cash donations and sent some of the surplus to support other Occupy movements around the country.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Roll Call reports a web sales tax fight is heating up in Washington as pols look for money to reduce the deficit. The Salem News runs a point and counterpoint on the Main Street Fairness Act, which would require online stores to collect sales taxes.

Time reports tax reform is gaining momentum on the Supercommittee. Also gaining momentum: Complaining about the Supercommittee.

ELECTION 2012

Herman Cain’s sexual harassment accuser may step forward, Talking Points Memo reports. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports one of his accusers received a $35,000 severance payment from the National Restaurant Association. A new Quinnipiac nationwide poll shows Cain up 7 points on Mitt Romney. And speaking of Romney: His son Tagg may be in business with three guys who made millions in the $8.5 billion Allen Stanford Ponzi scheme, or Tagg may be in business with three victims of the $8.5 billion Allen Stanford Ponzi scheme. You decide!

Rick Perry’s Super PAC hits the airwaves in Iowa.

The Obama reelection campaign’s legal arm works to roll back Republican-sponsored election laws in battleground states.

The Republican shenanigans may be contributing to a boost in President Obama’s poll numbers.

Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren “slug it out” in the campaign fundraising push. MetroWestDaily News via GateHouse News Service.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Hard Rock International says it is joining forces with a local developer in Holyoke to build a casino and a hotel, the Worcester Telegram reports.

Time explains what happened at MF Global and why it matters.

About that $5 monthly fee that its debit card users were to be hit with, tin-eared Bank of America goes into Emily Litella mode, announcing, “never mind.”

It’s bankruptcy filing time -- again -- for Filene’s Basement.

Employer confidence in Massachusetts has continued to decline, sinking to the levels following the dot-com bust that triggered a recession a decade ago. Some businesses tell Keller@Large the biggest obstacle in hiring is the cost of health care.

National Grid’s chief says power outages are a fact of life, the Eagle-Tribune reports. “We do live in New England and this is what the weather is,” Marcy Reed said. Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno isn’t happy with Western Massachusetts Electric. Brian McGrory is befuddled over how NStar honcho Tom May can be worth $8 million a year. May throws him a curve by returning his call and basically tells him, “Just am.” Rep. Dan Winslow wants power companies to give customers rebates for prolonged power outages.

Frank McCourt may be coming home. The former Boston waterfront real estate baron -- under pressure from the fans, Major League Baseball, and bankruptcy court, not to mention the most expensive divorce settlement in California history -- has finally agreed to sell the Los Angeles Dodgers.

EDUCATION

Gov. Deval Patrick touts the state’s performance on fourth and eighth grade tests, the Lynn Item reports.

NPR’s Talk of the Nation takes a state-by-state look at how sex education is taught.

HEALTH CARE

The state’s congressional delegation warns that the Obama administration is considering slashing support for Massachusetts hospitals, the Lowell Sun reports.

Census data indicates Massachusetts is the state with the highest percentage of people with health insurance, while Texas comes in last, Governing magazine reports.

The Cape Cod Times suggests “occupying” health care to expose the lack of chronic care facilities on the Cape.

TRANSPORTATION

Ridership is at an all-time high, reports the MBTA, which attributes the development to increased job hiring in the region and continued high gasoline prices.

Bridge work begins on Cape Cod’s  Bourne and Sagamore spans.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

The Herald reports on the opening day of the federal racketeering trial of US Rep. John Tierney’s brother-in-law.

MEDIA

Dan Kennedy writes about a Connecticut reporter fired for plagiarism and opines about “the Romenesko effect” on the careers of young reporters who commit journalism crimes. The blog post has triggered a very interesting comment thread.

Circulation keeps falling at Boston’s two daily newspapers.

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