State nixes ITEP contracts for trio of solar projects from New Orleans company

In a rare display of pushback, the Louisiana Board of Commerce and Industry on Wednesday axed a trio of Industrial Tax Exemption Program contracts for solar farms in Livingston, Calcasieu and Lincoln parishes from a New Orleans solar company over notable paperwork delays.

The contracts for South Alexander Development LLC, a subsidiary of Joule Energy, were first up for review in August because the company failed to submit mandated status reports in 2020 and 2021 for the solar projects, according to board agendas. ITEP participants must submit status reports by the end of every year of their contract. However, the Board of Commerce and Industry gave the solar company another two months to fix the issue.

Adrian Bruneau, a consultant for Joule, told the board on Wednesday the proper documentation had been filed and projects were “back on track and moving forward” after Hurricanes Laura and Ida delayed the Calcasieu and Livingston solar farms. Joule President Robert Schmidt, at the board’s August meeting, said construction had to be restarted at the Livingston facility following Ida.

Bruneau added that the storms pushed the company to the brink of insolvency and that a federal tariff issue hampered the company’s supply chain. “It’s inexcusable what’s happened in the past,” said Bruneau, who added that he was brought in “recently” by Joule to resolve the paperwork snafu. “They want to get this right.”

The board is generally receptive to companies that miss either job or salary requirements or deadlines for project reports. However, board Chairman Jerald “Jerry” Jones aimed his ire at Joule, saying the company failed to contact the board following the August meeting until Friday. Louisiana Economic Development staffers told the board the reports submitted by Joule were light on details and that the 2020 and 2021 documents were “copy-paste wording” of the 2022 report.

Jones also accused Joule of ignoring a two-year grace period to commence operations after the three contracts were approved in 2018 and 2019. “I would have thought, frankly, after the last meeting that your company would have been on the front door of LED the next day trying to figure out what we need to get these projects back on track,” a fiery Jones said.

Jones made the motion to cancel the Joule contracts. He said it’s the first time he has made any motion since becoming the board’s chair. It was approved with no opposition. “This program has come under incredible scrutiny in the last 10 years,” Jones said of ITEP. “Solar panels for this program have come under incredible scrutiny. This board has come under incredible scrutiny for it.” LED reports do not indicate how much power the three solar farms would generate. They represent a combined $23 million investment that would have created 450 construction jobs but three permanent jobs at salaries of $25,000 apiece.


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