From the Los Angeles Times:
Renewable energy sparks a probe of a modern-day land rush
Interior Department investigates an acquisition that involves use of public land for renewable energy. A larger issue: establishing standards for private companies using federal stimulus money.
A rush to stake claims for renewable energy projects in the California desert has triggered a federal investigation and prompted calls for reforms to prevent public lands from being exposed to private profiteering and environmental degradation.
Officials said last week that the inspector general's office of the Department of the Interior was investigating Tempe, Ariz.-based First Solar Inc.'s recent acquisition of Hayward, Calif.-based OptiSolar, and its unfinished renewable energy projects, for $400 million. The deal gave First Solar control of what the company described as OptiSolar's "strategic land rights" to 136,000 acres of public land in San Bernardino, Riverside and Kern counties.
Bureau of Land Management officials, however, said First Solar acquired OptiSolar's applications to develop that land.
"There is no value associated with a mere application, which could be rejected by us for a variety of reasons," said Greg Miller, renewable energy program manager for the BLM office in Moreno Valley.
"A company can buy another company along with its applications, as long as those applications are not listed as assets. That would be wrong," Miller said. "We're trying to weed out speculators who are filing applications, then waiting for someone to buy them at the highest price."
First Solar spokeswoman Lisa Morse said the transaction was above board. "We now have OptiSolar, and the applications were an important part of it for us," she said. "OptiSolar, which we acquired as a whole, is now a subsidiary of First Solar.">>>MORE