"I don't think that the [air quality] board can function as a loan board as such. We would have to employ experts to help us with that process, which is what we attempted to do," said Clifford "Kip" Cloud, vice chairman of the air authority's board. "If we're going to determine whether a company is viable or not and we have to send somebody to look at their records, who better than forensic accountants who have had experience with this sort of stuff? I think we have to try to get information available to make the best decision."
The air authority, which contracts much of the work done for it, is improving the communication issues at the staff level and with USA Energy Advisors, said Todd Nein, interim executive director of the air authority. The air authority holds weekly meetings with USA Energy Advisors and began submitting monthly reports to the board in September regarding the status of companies funded under the advanced energy program.
"That's two areas that we need to make sure we hit," he said.
Mr. Jacobson worries the board doesn't have all the information it needs to make informed decisions. Being a good steward of taxpayer dollars is difficult when you can't fully gauge a situation, he said.
Mr. Jacobson has said during air authority meetings that the board only learned about problems at Perrysburg's Willard & Kelsey Solar Group after another company funded by the air authority brought it to its attention.
"We are the last people to find out and there is a lot of information that seems to get stuck somewhere in the channel," he said. "I've been concerned we're not being alerted to potential problems with loans.
"That is very dismaying, and it makes it very difficult for us to do our jobs."
Richard Rastetter, a principal at USA Energy Advisors, said the air authority's staff has been made aware of problems with advanced energy loan recipients every time they arise. Whether that information is passed on to the board is not the duty of USA Energy Advisors, he added.
"Again, we don't report to the board, we simply report to the staff," he said in an interview with The Blade.
Clearing the air
Politics didn't factor into deciding what entities would be awarded funding under the advanced energy program, air authority officials and Mr. Strickland said.
"I can say unequivocally that no decision was based on political contributions," Mr. Strickland said of the stimulus and advanced energy program.
As for going into business with Mr. Shanahan and John Haseley, a current air authority board member and former chief of staff in the Strickland administration, Mr. Strickland said those plans emerged after his term ended. The three joined forces to form Midwest Gateway Partners, a Columbus consulting firm.
"From my perspective, I wanted a place to go to and have a phone and a desk and to be able interact with my friends," he said.
Mr. Haseley said the conversations about going into business happened after the three men left their public lives.
"It was coincidental that the governor and I were looking at putting a firm together, and I happened to have a phone conversation with Dr. Shanahan and it came up and he expressed interest in being a part of it.
"It was kind of happenstance and a coincidental conversation over the phone."
Still, Mr. Strickland's ties to the advanced energy program and the companies remain.
Two of the companies that are tied to substantial donations from people affiliated with them -- Willard & Kelsey with $26,400 and Xunlight with $4,700 -- have been on shaky financial ground, and issues continue to plague the advanced energy program.
Mr. Strickland said he couldn't offer a definitive response on how the advanced energy program has fared because he's been so removed from it.
Xunming Deng, Xunlight's founder and former chief executive officer, said he donated $4,500 to the Strickland campaign because the governor was invested in making Ohio a renewable-energy state.
"He was a strong supporter of the solar industry," Mr. Deng said.
Mel Kurtz, president of Quasar Energy Group, and his wife donated $20,000 to the Strickland campaign. The waste-to-energy company is a success story for the air authority and the advanced energy program -- it was loaned $3.06 million for a project in Columbus that since has been completed. The company also is eligible for $100,000 in loan forgiveness under the program.
Mr. Kurtz, who said he is a conservative, said giving a donation to the Strickland campaign was all about spreading the word about the work being performed at Quasar.
"It's to get the message out. It really isn't an advocacy for the candidate, it was an advocacy for what we're trying to do," he said.
Any fledgling industry has risks involved for those who invest in it, Mr. Strickland said. Advanced energy is something that Mr. Strickland said will be vital for the economic success of the state and the country.
"When you are investing in companies, especially companies that are involved with new and emerging technologies, not every pitch is going to result in a home run," he said. "That does not mean you do not continue to make these efforts to pursue developing technologies."
Contact Kris Turner at: [email protected] or 419-724-6103.
(c)2012 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)
Visit The Blade (Toledo, Ohio) at www.toledoblade.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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