THERE IS A fascinating relationship tied to a breakthrough solar-energy complex near the Mojave Desert Preserve. What is significant about this is the players involved stand to make a handsome sum of money becoming the first solar-generating station on U.S. Bureau of Land Management land.
A report by The Associated Press mapped out a relationship that goes as high as California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and as broad as some of the nation's most successful companies, including San Ramon-based Chevron Corp. and Mountain View-based Google. At stake is a project that could be in the forefront of solar power at a time when the nation faces high fuel costs and potential climate change. Research shows a project like this, with sunlight reflecting off more than 200,000 mirrors in the desert, could potentially power the nation.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is cousin to first lady Maria Shriver and Terry Tamminen was state Environmental Protection Secretary under Schwarzenegger. The two were named senior advisers at Silicon Valley-based VantagePoint Venture Partners last year. VantagePoint has a major stake in Oakland-based startup BrightSource Energy, which is planning to spend $2 billion to construct solar power plants along the Nevada border, and has locked up a deal to sell electricity to PG&E, enough to power 321,000 homes annually. While Kennedy and Tamminen are not working on the BrightSource application submitted to the state a year ago, they still stand to profit greatly if the projects gets the go-ahead from state regulators.
Meanwhile, VantagePoint is BrightSource's biggest investor, utilizing financing from Chevron Technology Ventures, Google.org and J.P. Morgan. Chevron has donated more than $690,000 to Schwarzenegger's political ventures, and VantagePoint executives have also donated directly or indirectly to the governor. Is it a coincidence that Schwarzenegger has been pushing hard for Californians toward solar power? Is it a coincidence that Schwarzenegger was at center stage at a conference for Mexican and U.S. governors where Kennedy gave an endorsement for BrightSource? Is it a coincidence that Schwarzenegger introduced BrightSource CEO John Woolard, who is also a senior adviser at VantagePoint, at the governors conference in August?
Now the lead agency to decide BrightSource's application, the California Energy Commission, is made up of five members, all Schwarzenegger appointees. This is where we have to put up the stop sign.
There are enough connected power players involved here to question whether special treatment was given to BrightSource, and questions need to be answered publicly before a decision is made between the state commission and BLM.
We're not opposed to expanding solar power nor are we making any accusations. But there are some nagging coincidences that need to be addressed.
With a project this big and historic, we need to know all of the facts before it moves forward.