JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi taxpayers may have only an empty Senatobia building and solar panel equipment to show for $26 million in loans to Twin Creeks Technologies.
The California-based solar technology firm is liquidating and a company that bought Twin Creeks' assets won't take over its agreement with Mississippi. Twin Creeks had agreed to invest at least $132 million and create at least 500 jobs in exchange for loans, tax breaks and other aid.
The state sued Twin Creeks in Tate County Chancery Court and has had a temporary restraining order against the firm since Nov. 8, said officials in the Tate County chancery clerk's office. That lawsuit is being handled by Jack Wilson, a lawyer who works directly for Gov. Phil Bryant.
Twin Creeks, like many American solar firms, was swamped by a wave of cheap solar panels imported from China, said Kathy Gelston, chief financial officer for the Mississippi Development Authority.
Twin Creeks also struggled to make its equipment produce energy at a high-enough rate, said Janie Mortimer, executive director of the Tate County Economic Development Foundation. Mortimer said that the company never had more than 25 employees.
"We were very hopeful this would be a successful project and hire the number of people they anticipated," Mortimer said. "This was a little difficult to endure."
Gelston said Thursday officials are negotiating for Twin Creeks to repay aid above the value of the 85,000-square-foot building and equipment. The state loaned Senatobia $15 million to construct the building and $8.2 million to buy equipment. It also transferred $3.5 million to the city, mainly in a loan but partially in a grant, to prepare the site and build infrastructure.
Gelston said the state wants to get money back, beyond what the building and equipment might be worth.
"We are in the process right now, the attorney general, the governor's office and MDA in trying to come to some type of closure on this project," Gelston told The Associated Press.
Lenders sold Twin Creeks' technology for $10 million to GT Advanced Technologies of Nashua, N.H., in mid-November. Gelston said Twin Creeks received about $3 million from the sale, but there are creditors in addition to the state of Mississippi.
GT Advanced Technologies could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
Then-Gov. Haley Barbour announced the plant in April 2010 and cut the ribbon in May 2011, with the company saying it was in startup production. But Twin Creeks never sold solar panels commercially and announced a change in business strategy in early 2012, saying it would instead make equipment for solar panel manufacturers. Though Twin Creeks got a wave of favorable publicity at the time of the switch, it apparently wasn't any more successful.