THE ISRAEL LOBBY ENTERS STATE GOVERNMENT

RISE OF THE VIRGINIA ISRAEL ADVISORY BOARD

By Grant F. Smith

Audiobook version available at Youtube and Audible
Paperbacks available at Middle East Books & More and Amazon.com
Author speaking or media requests call 202-342-7325 or email info at IRmep.org
Support this and other IRmep content with a donation via Network for Good or Paypal

7

Israeli Settler Identity Laundering through Project Turbine

...we have a company that is building/spending... $100 million in real estate development this year. They’re building solar energy farms in four different counties;... the alternative energy company is the major Israeli real estate firm...they are building in four counties right now and then roll into probably at least four more in the next 18 months; they’re building their US office in Richmond—that’s huge that’s never happened before.[1] Dov Hoch, VIAB Executive Director

Handling 70 percent of world internet traffic takes acres of servers and mountains of telecommunications equipment. “Data Center Alley” in Northern Virginia houses the largest single concentration of data centers in the world. A result of spiraling demand for internet web services, data centers housing server and telecom infrastructure are not just one of Virginia’s biggest energy consumers, data centers are one of the world’s largest sources of global electricity demand. [2]

Major data centers, such as Amazon Web Services, say they want to power them with 100 percent renewable energy. Through the end of 2018, Amazon had invested in 53 renewable energy projects to deliver over a thousand megawatts of power. Six of Amazon’s power investments are in Virginia and the company claimed its energy use was 50 percent renewable by year end 2018.[3]

Although data center users like Amazon claim they advocate for regulatory and tax policies at state and federal levels to promote renewable energy usage, at present the corporate commitment is entirely voluntary. On the supply side, electricity providers are sticking with the cheapest energy production options. Virginia’s dominant power supplier, Dominion Energy, has only 4 percent of its generation mix coming from renewables with the rest derived from carbon-based fuels. The company’s current goal increases renewables only to 10 percent by 2030. [4]

The Virginia Israel Advisory Board has a solution to data center energy needs: solar energy farms sold, designed, installed and administered by Israeli companies:

Project Turbine – A multi-billion dollar Israeli real estate and renewable energy concern with significant properties in D.C. and Northern Virginia is developing several solar energy sites in Virginia to produce electricity. Expanding renewable energy capacity is a requirement of major data centers to locate in Virginia. Virginia Israel Advisory Board 2018 Annual Report

The offer sounds compelling. Data centers continue to buy energy from Dominion Energy and other power companies generated by fracked natural gas and other carbon based sources. VIAB is working behind the scenes to win business for Israel using VIAB’s status as a government agency while hiding the true parent organization behind “Project Turbine.” One prime example is the Mineral Gap Datacenter.

Mineral Gap Datacenter

VIAB Southwest Region Coordinator and Board Member Aviva Frye is a “caterer, licensed travel agent and community organizer of over 30 years.” Holding a BA in Political Science from the University of Maryland and master’s in International Relations from Boston University, her profile on VIAB’s website says that, “with most of her family living in Israel, and Aviva in SW Virginia, she is thrilled to bring the two parts of her life together.” Left off her VIAB bio is that she is the chairperson of “Rural VA Dems,” a group with leaders drawn from the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia aiming to get Southwest Virginia non-urban dwellers to vote the party ticket.[5] At first, she would not seem to be the ideal candidate to sell complex Israeli solar energy solutions in Virginia. But her role was not sales, it was market entry. So, in addition to roles at VIAB and the state Democratic Party, Frye is also the Director of Regulation and Public Relations for Caden-Energix.

Energix is a small renewable energy producer founded in 2009 and traded on the Israeli stock exchange. Alony Hetz—a private company—has been the controlling shareholder of Energix ever since it was founded.

Energix Renewable Energy Ltd is deeply invested in territories illegally occupied by Israel in the Palestinian West Bank. Energix also owns a solar farm located in the Meitarim illegal settlement industrial zone in the Israeli occupied Syrian Golan Heights.[6] Energix allegedly used “questionable methods” to obtain access to land from its indigenous Syrian-Druze owners. The Druze stood in the way of Energix developing a wind energy project.

Alony Hetz also has investments in illegal settlements. It invested in the illegal settlement of Ariel in the occupied Palestinian West Bank. It holds a 58.22 percent stake in an Israeli real estate firm that owns Amot Ariel in the Ariel West Industrial Zone.[7] Other Alony-Hetz investments in the United States include Carr Properties, a U.S.-based real estate investment trust (or REIT) that owns properties in the Washington D.C. area and Boston (a 43.65 percent stake). Alony Hetz proudly owns and trumpets on its website a 114,000 square foot “trophy” property in Old Town, Alexandria.

Caden Energy was the brainchild of former CEO of Century Media Records CEO Robert Caden. In 2015 CMR was acquired by Sony Music Entertainment, and Caden went looking to start up other ventures. In 2018 Energix and Alony Hetz acquired a 58 percent stake in a series of Caden Energy solar projects in Arizona and Virginia for $13 million, “with a total capacity of hundreds of megawatts.” Energix does not manufacture equipment. The four Virginia sites initially announced acquisition of panels from First Solar, an American solar panel manufacturer and a seller of utility-scale power plants. Energix also has not traditionally had its own construction teams. Rather, it hires contractors to build out the sites, after receiving the proper permits. Energix is interested in high-margin project sales, contracting, and administration of solar arrays, including selling excess electricity to local utilities. One critical phase for any solar project is permitting. Aviva Frye’s job was getting state approval for those permits. But when Frye approached government officials, she did so in her capacity as a board member of VIAB.

In February 2018 Frye set up a meeting and demanded follow-up from Angela Navarro, Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources at the Office of the Governor. Caden-Energix wanted Navarro to know that a Kentucky Utilities Company and its subsidiary, Old Dominion Power Company, ODP, was not going to provision solar energy for the Mineral Gap Data Center.  ODP serves 30,000 customers in Western Virginia. According to an email about Frye’s efforts obtained through the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, Frye said:

Kentucky Utilities has made it clear to Energix that they are uninterested in providing renewable energy in Wise. The data center, which is already there, wants to expand. Del Kilgore [Delegate Terry Kilgore, Virginia House of Delegates] told us that at least two other data centers want to locate in Wise County if the renewable energy were available. But they MUST have solar power, hence the utility company is keeping good jobs out of Wise County.[8]

The data center “which is already there” is the aforementioned Mineral Gap, a high-security 65,000 square foot data colocation center on a 22-acre site in Wise County. The facility was backed by $350,000 in Tobacco Region Opportunity Funds.  Whether there is enough market demand for capacity at the data center in the isolated, rural western part of Virginia is not yet clear. Server space is currently being sold as an extra secure facility owing to its sheer physical remoteness.

When Frye met with government officials across the state to steer contracts and funding toward the Israeli solar energy company she represents, she did it on the basis of her role at VIAB. Two weeks after Governor Ralph Northam  was sworn in as Virginia’s newly elected governor on January 13, 2018, Frye sought a private meeting with First Lady Pamela Northam.  The meeting was to talk about Energix, but Frye signed the request for the meeting as the “Southwest Coordinator of the Virginia Israel Advisory Board.”

   

Aviva Frye meeting request on behalf of Energix as a VIAB official

Caden Energix applied for its permits and is now moving fast in rural and northern Virginia to build systems. Caden Energix’s first rural solar project to go public with an announced location and status update is located in Gladys, Virginia in the state’s southwest. As Senior Vice President Ken Niemann explained, “The site in Gladys also has an existing Dominion Energy transmission line that we will tie into, thus eliminating the need to construct new electric lines off-site.” Caden Energix practices are not always environmentally friendly. In order to find sites in less densely populated areas that don’t require paying prime farmland prices, some property acquisition necessitates clearcutting stands of timber in order to launch projects.[9]

A permit application to build out the 1,108 acre Gladys site says it will produce 60 megawatts, that is, after the trees have been clear cut, the equipment is installed, and it gets connected to the transmission system.[10]

Real estate expertise is vital since Caden Energix leases land for up to 35 years. It then says it will remove its equipment and return the land to the owner or heirs. Solar panel manufacturer warrantees usually don’t guarantee power generation above 20 percent of original capacity beyond 20 years as the efficiency of the panels degrades.

In a 2018 periodic update, Energix admitted in a footnote that it did not expect to be able to sell solar energy in Virginia at above-market rates.[11] It remains to be seen whether VIAB and other solar energy advocates in Virginia can change state law so that energy from their solar farms must by law be purchased by Dominion Energy or other utilities operating in Virginia at higher rates. If that can be done, an already installed base of solar arrays will produce much higher returns for their beneficial owners.

The locations of three other sites with pending permits that have not been publicly announced indicate that another offtake strategy Energix may be depending on is VIAB’s portfolio of other projects. One site, near Wythe, Virginia for 20 megawatts just happens to be located next to a large energy consumer—a PepsiCo bottling plant.[12] Could Energix work down through the Sabra-PepsiCo joint venture to sign an offtake agreement with the plant? Another Energix permit application site for 82.5 megawatts happens to be located just 11.4 miles from the Oran Safety Glass plant north of Emporia. [13]

There is perhaps no image more symbolic of VIAB benefitting from state funding than its office in the 5,500-square-foot Southwest Virginia Energy Center located in Bristol, Virginia. It was built with $8 million in Tobacco Commission  funds at a construction cost of $5 million. It is supposed to house research, manufacturing and “clean fuel energy products and systems” developers. But it has a single non-government tenant, a lone iPhone app developer.

The only other tenant is VIAB Southwest Region Coordinator Aviva Frye, using the facility as a comfortable perch to advance VIAB and her Caden-Energix projects in what she told the news media is the state sanctioned mission to bring “businesses from Israel to Virginia.”[14]

But the four overt Caden-Energix projects overseen from Frye’s isolated southern outpost are not the full extent of Alony Hetz Energix solar development activities in Virginia. Across northern Virginia, it appears that “Project Turbine” is quietly working behind three opaque shell companies to sign as many 30-year leases with Virginia public schools and other entities as it possibly can. A small portion of the electricity from the installations is sold at a discount to the school system, while the front companies sell the excess production back to the local electric utility grid. As a bonus, schools can use off-the-shelf curriculum for students to learn about renewable energy, allegedly making the solar arrays an educational benefit to the school.

Identity Laundering through Sun Tribe

Energix and Alony Hetz solar farming efforts for the Mineral Gap Datacenter are moving forward, but not under the Caden-Energix brand. On paper, Aviva Frye appears no longer to have any connection to the project, since activities have shifted to technical proposals and land acquisition. But there are four clues that Energix and Alony Hetz are still involved.

The first is that in its July 18, 2017 board meeting, Aviva Frye explained that “Energix’s visit to Virginia resulted in an MOU [memorandum of understanding] in Wise to put up a solar field for a beta company.”[15]

Energix and Alony Hetz are operating as the beneficial owner of a “beta company” shell entity. The name of the company now developing Mineral Gap data center in Wise County is Sun Tribe Solar LLC. At Mineral Gap, Sun Tribe Solar will benefit not only from Virginia State funding flowing into the project, but also $500,000 from the U.S. Department of Treasury paid as part of a $10 million grant for solar energy development on abandoned mine lands.[16]

   

Sun Tribe Solar Mineral Gap proposal

The second tipoff that Alony Hetz and Energix are behind the Sun Tribe Solar front-companies developing Virginia solar projects was the July 1, 2019 announcement that Bill Nusbaum was joining the VIAB board as a nominee of the General Assembly of Virginia.[17] Nusbaum is a partner doing “economic development” for Williams Mullen, a regionally based law firm with 240 attorneys in Virginia, Washington DC, North Carolina and South Carolina. In 2014, VIAB was working on entering into a partnership with a law firm to sell to government and overcome regulatory issues, noting in meeting minutes that:

VIAB has created a program where a Virginia boutique law firm will work with the VIAB to identify Israeli companies with high tech products and/or development capabilities that can team with Virginia companies that fall in the “special set aside categories.” It is expected that the companies can identify opportunities within the government segment. This can offer unique opportunities for Israeli companies to navigate the complicated US government contracting bureaucracy while offering Virginia companies to expand their offerings. It is expected that future manufacturing and/or assembly requirements will take place in Virginia and that the VIAB will guide the job creating expansion that will result from the program.[18]

So where is the connection? The law firm of Williams Mullen has intimate ties to Sun Tribe Solar. In February of 2016, Williams Mullen Partner Philip Goodpasture filed articles of organization for a new limited liability company called Sun Tribe Solar with the Virginia Division of Corporations. The filing was followed by two more, one in 2016 for Sun Tribe Holdings by Williams Mullins Senior Associate Richard Palmieri, and yet another for Sun Tribe Development LLC by Taylor Brown with Goodpasture as his agent. Taylor Brown is listed as co-founder of Sun Tribe Solar.

   

Sun Tribe Solar, LLC business entity details[19]

Many of Sun Tribe’s direct competitors, such as the case of Arlington County Public Schools bidding discussed later, are transparent public corporations in which the source of capital, financial wherewithal and beneficial owners are publicly known. Not true for Sun Tribe, which strives to hide its true ownership. It is probable that Philip Goodpasture is not a newly minted solar energy entrepreneur, but rather the nominee of anonymous beneficial owners, whose identities are hidden and excluded from all of Sun Tribe’s contracts and disclosures made to win business. In legalese, Williams Mullen is serving as the “formation agent” and service provider that will do ongoing legal maintenance of the company entities. In this particular case, the primary reason Sun Tribe would be set up via three separate LLCs is so that it can be owned and managed anonymously. Energix and Alony Hetz can then use the Virginia based LLCs to fund via international wire transfer the seed capital Sun Tribe needs to market, sell and set up solar energy projects that return its investment over 25 to 30 to 35 years. Williams Mullen will then transfer net income back to Energix and Alony Hetz. If the operation gets into trouble, the nominee can transfer the ownership of operation to intermediary offshore shell companies, sell Sun Tribe, cash out through an initial public offering on a U.S. stock exchange or even claim bankruptcy and roll it up without ever publicly implicating the true beneficial owners.

While Caden-Energix might have been able to operate more or less openly in more remote projects in Southern Virginia without too much risk of exposure or pushback, in the north of the state and academic markets everywhere, the risk that Alony Hetz could be exposed in the sensitive markets it targets requires anonymity. Creating a pleasant corporate image is therefore key.

Sun Tribe’s business development operation is already a social media and marketing powerhouse. Though it only joined Twitter in May of 2019, the @SunTribeSolar feed is full of hip postings. Sun Tribe’s young workers enjoy biking to work. They are recent graduates of Virginia universities. Their dogs are welcome in the office. One canine is even pictured sitting at the conference table giving input. Young engineers are encouraged to apply to work for Sun Tribe, and many of their profiles appear in the feed.

   

Sun Tribe Solar tweet about dogs on August 14, 2019

In a July 15 post, Chief Strategy Officer David Welch stresses Sun Tribe’s local roots. “As a Virginia-based company, we’re proud of the fact that the commonwealth is embracing a 21st-century economy built on the foundation of clean, affordable energy.”

One of Sun Tribe’s key strategies is obtaining nearly zero cost long-term leases on land in exchange for giving landowners a small discount on electricity generated by their solar arrays. Sun Tribe sometimes wins projects through no-bid contracts directly with school superintendents. Other installations are a result of school board proposal requests to multiple firms. The vetting and contracting process never broaches the issue of Sun Tribe’s beneficial owners, though some public stakeholders are beginning to question the wisdom of contracting with thinly capitalized LLCs.

Are Alony Hetz And Energix now occupying Virginia Public School System rooftops?

In Virginia’s King William Public Schools system, superintendent David White was informed about Sun Tribe from Middlesex County Public Schools Superintendent Peter Gretz.[20] Gretz had executed a contract with Sun Tribe on November 7, 2017 to “construct, own operate and maintain a solar array on school property, at no cost to the school system.” Gretz sold the idea to the Board of Supervisors on the basis that,

Power will be purchased from Sun Tribe Solar at a rate of 6.8 cents per KW from Sun Tribe, versus the 9.5 cents per KW that they pay currently.[21]

Gretz’s decision enjoyed fawning media coverage. The Washington Post hailed it with the headline, “Virginia schools have seen the light, and it’s solar,” quoting Gretz, “All of us are telling the same story, all trying to deal with budgetary challenges…. this is just such a no-brainer.”[22]

White’s board then too “reached out to Sun Tribe” to start discussing an agreement for “three of our schools.” In February 2019 King Williams County Public Schools signed a 30 year agreement with Sun Tribe under which it will allow the company to install 4,500 solar panels on adjacent land. Sun Tribe will sell electricity to schools at a small discount compared to standard Dominion Energy power rates, while under some contracts selling excess production to utilities and other buyers.

In late 2018 Arlington Public Schools also contracted with Sun Tribe Solar to install 6,980 panels under a 25-year contract. Arlington School Board chair Reid Goldstein said the Sun Tribe award was the result of a 2017 strategic plan. The school system issued a request for proposals and received six responses. It rejected one for failing to provide mandatory information, and another for not meeting “joint venture” status. Of the remaining three, Ameresco, WGL Energy Systems, and Sun Tribe, Sun Tribe won out.[23]

But how far behind Sun Tribe’s corporate veil did these school boards and superintendents probe to discover its origins, source of capital, ability to deliver on multi-decade contracts and expertise? Not at all. In public meetings during the Sun Tribe proposal review process and final contracts, Alony Hetz and Energix ties to unlawful activities in occupied territories also never came up.

Other project stakeholders, such as students, parents and local taxpayers might not want their school doing business with opaque fronts for an Israeli company that profits directly from illegal Israeli settlements. Alony Hetz, Energix and VIAB’s obvious response, if the true owners ever emerge from behind their corporate veil, would be predictable. “Don’t you want to avert the climate change crisis by harnessing solar energy? Are you against new economy jobs for young people (who own cute dogs?)”

With no shortage of U.S. solar start-ups as well as experienced, completely transparent Virginia vendors, stakeholders’ response might be simple. “Yes, we want solar, yes, we want jobs. We just don’t want an Israeli occupation of our rooftops and territories until Palestinians regain their human rights. Especially not at public schools. It just sets the wrong example.”

Energix and Alony Hetz are clearly in an all-out race to build as many solar arrays as quickly as possible, while VIAB and other industry groups work on Virginia regulators. The most profitable scenario would be a new state law mandating small scale solar energy production be purchased at higher prices by utilities through net metering in recognition of the higher cost to produce solar energy.

However, in the meantime, Governor Northam has signed into law and issued executive orders mandating 3,000 megawatts of solar and wind power energy must be in production by year 2028. Dominion Energy must procure electricity from smaller scale solar energy producers in the amount of 50 megawatts in 2019, buying 150 by year 2022. Utilities such as Appalachian Power must meet 25 percent of the new targets by signing Power-Purchase Agreements with smaller scale projects.[24] The governor is clearly doing his part for VIAB and the solar industry.

For VIAB, a looming government-mandated “offtake agreement” is even better than Project Jonah’s proposed arrangement, explored in the next chapter, to sell tilapia to a regional supermarket chain. It could even prevail against popular opposition to beneficial owners of that solar power, that is, if the public is ever allowed to find out.

Do Sun Tribe solutions serve public schools?

Assuming public school administrators don’t know about the hidden costs of supporting illegal settlements, does contracting with Sun Tribe Solar still make sense? The relevant costs for solar energy farms are the purchase price, installation costs, and the cost of land. In a Sun Tribe deal, the costs normally covered by the purchase price are more than covered by the customer giving away the land and agreeing to purchase energy from Sun Tribe. Does the purchaser ever truly understand or share in any of the potential gains?

A close inspection of Sun Tribe’s contract[25] with Hamilton Holmes Middle School provides some answers. Under its “lease” agreement, Sun Tribe Solar will pay a dollar per year for the large tract of ground necessary for a 478 kilowatt direct current solar farm. It will have all the rights of owning the site for three decades, but few of the obligations. For example, Sun Tribe will issue a set of security requirements that the school must follow to protect the site against intrusion, vandalism, or other problems. The school will suffer some environmental degradation to get solar energy. In order to prepare the site, a large stand of trees will have to be clear cut by Sun Tribe Solar.

Hamilton Holmes, in addition to giving away land usage, is also giving away the upside potential, given its intended use. According to the signed facility contract, Sun Tribe will be generating four times as much energy as the school needs. The excess will be sold at commercial rates to Dominion, which it is obligated to purchase under current law. Although most of the contract documents portray the agreement as a “negotiation,” the school system did not bring in any independent consultant to evaluate the terms to negotiate a share of “net metering” revenue sales to Dominion. Although it was offered the possibility to undertake more risk in exchange for a small piece of the upside, the sale was geared toward getting the school to buy power at a slightly reduced rate with no equity or profit sharing. A savvy school that examined all the numbers might have come up with better terms, such as entirely free solar electricity as a condition for the land lease to host a solar array. But neither Arlington nor King William County public school system boards evaluating Sun Tribe Solar proposals appeared to bring in independent expert advisors before signing a contract. So, under its signed contract, not only is Hamilton Holmes not getting free electricity, it is obligated to pay Sun Tribe for electricity. If the Sun Tribe system had been installed and running in 2018, referencing the school’s actual utility bill energy consumption and Sun Tribe’s contractual requirements, the school would have paid Sun Tribe $51,000 for electricity that year, vs what it actually paid Dominion which was $58,000. However, Sun Tribe over the same year would have made $178,000 selling the excess power to Dominion.

It might be argued that Sun Tribe’s installation and operation of the site combined with the small discount on energy is enough to make it a good deal for the Hamilton Holmes. Not true. The industry average installed cost for such facilities is only $1.03 per watt, or around half a million dollars to build the entire Hamilton solar farm. If Hamilton were to cancel the deal after a year, its contract requires the school pay $1.2 million to Sun Tribe, which would stand to gain a tidy $700,000 profit after installation cost. But what about operation and maintenance? The costs after installation are minimal for solar electricity, and the school has already agreed to absorb costs to provide security against theft or vandalism at the site.

There are also economic externalities associated with such solar installations. In economics, a negative externality is a cost that is suffered by a third party as a consequence of an economic transaction. In this transaction, the “generator” (Sun Tribe) and the “customer” (Hamilton Holmes Middle School) are the first and second parties, and Dominion Energy is the third party whose resources are indirectly and negatively affected. The intermittent nature of solar is a major issue.

Under the contract—and in reality—Dominion Energy is expected to provide 100 percent of the electricity demand of the school no matter what is happening at the solar array. For solar, this means whenever it is dark, or the system is out of commission for any number of reasons. A true “off the grid” solar system would charge costly arrays of batteries to power the customer through such periods. At Hamilton School, Sun Tribe’s battery is Dominion Energy. This externality creates environmental consequences that remove some of the ecological luster from solar.

Dominion Energy’s gas, nuclear and other plants have to cover 100 percent of the school’s needs, whether it requires power or not. In a study one regional utility, Duke Energy, claims that since nuclear plants can’t ramp up and down to mitigate the intermittency of solar, it ramps up carbon-based production to cover such peaks. It further claims that extensive use of solar in its North Carolina market is increasing carbon emissions.[26]

Sun Tribe has other rights under its sales agreements, including reassignment to another company. It is free to sell the site to another company, go public and sell shares to the public while retaining majority ownership, and boost real returns in other ways. The school, on the other hand, is obligated to convince any assignee to continue buying power from the system. Like Virginia Tech’s memorandum of understanding with Sabra Dipping Company, it is reduced to the role of performing sales and market maintenance for Sun Tribe as a junior partner.

Sun Tribe and Caden-Energix and Alony Hetz are scouring Virginia for grants and subsidies for solar on the premise that they produce jobs and tax revenues. Neither is true. They only boost potential insider profits. While in the case of Hamilton Holmes Public School, the solar farm will entail some construction jobs, they will only be temporary. Full time equivalent jobs (FTE) required to administer the farm are close to zero. As verified in Sun Tribe’s own proposals, there is also no tax consequence for the project. Other than the temporary construction jobs, it will contribute no net revenue to the local, county or state treasury.

The school gets little for the land give away. While boasting rights for having a solar farm are clearly worth something, the net financial benefit is paltry. An independent model using actual 2018 electricity costs and Sun Tribe contractual discounts yields a net present value over 25 years of electricity savings to Hamilton Holmes of only around $134,000.

What about for the true beneficial owners of Sun Tribe in Israel and elsewhere? One thing that is notable about the Hamilton contract is that near the end of negotiations Sun Tribe suddenly wrote into its contracts an option to administer the site for an additional five years for a total of 30 years. That may be due to not only a drastic ongoing decline in the price of solar panels, but an increase in their productive life span.[27] Solar panels are now producing at high rates much longer than has previously been the case. So, what is in it for Sun Tribe’s beneficial owners is a 600 percent return on investment. Let’s again go to our hypothetical case of the Hamilton Holmes system being installed in 2018 and run for 25 years. At expected current rates of solar panel efficiency, and forecast inflation, Sun Tribe would produce a net present value[28] of $3 million in excess “net metered” sales to Dominion Energy. Or to put it another way, the Israeli owner and VIAB insiders and investors have the potential to skim six times as much “cream” from the project as the “milk” (construction jobs and tax revenue) touted to ordinary Virginians. They are producing all of the high-end value added to the project in terms of public relations, design, legal work securing permitting and management of leases, insurance and contracts. There may be even future investment banking work involved to take Sun Tribe public on a U.S. stock exchange to cash out. However, only low value-added jobs are available to the junior partners in construction, monitoring and maintenance.

The Hamilton Holmes project faced grassroots political pushback in 2019. On September 30, King William County Public Schools superintendent David White contacted project manager Alex Gregory at Sun Tribe Solar:

Alex, we have a local T.E.A. Party that is extremely active as it is an election year. That being the case, would Sun Tribe provide some answers or talking points to questions they are asking on their website?[29]

Sun Tribe immediately offered help to quell the unrest. But Sun Tribe’s public relations challenge wasn’t with the “local T.E.A.” party, but 22 miles to the northeast in Tappahannock, VA. There, a group called the Essex County Conservation Alliance was publicizing a fully sourced 18 page study compiling concerns about solar energy farms in the Tidewater counties of Virginia.[30] The T.E.A. party had only posted it on their website.

Rob Corradi, Public Affairs and Development Manager at Sun Tribe forwarded White’s concerns to his team, saying:

“I’m happy to write up some stuff for them to use/have in their back pocket for knowledge. But for broader visibility (and considering some of what they’re saying here impacts the UDev (University market development) side as well—looping in Devin [Welch, Chief Strategy and Development Officer], Taylor [Brown, chief technical officer] , Seth [Herman, Senior Development Manager] and Danny [Van Clief, former Coronal Energy President, newly leading large-scale development business] for awareness.”[31]

 Sun Tribe had a reason to be worried about the university market. Students would not likely take kindly to unanswered concerns about solar energy as Sun Tribe ruthlessly targeted the university market. But what were the Essex County Conservation Alliance’s concerns?

Key concerns were that solar energy farms were taking farmland out of productive use and destroying wooded areas. They argued that the term solar energy “farm” had its origin in the fact that solar companies found it cost effective to lease farmland in rural counties on which to erect their solar generation panels because land cleared for farming is already exposed to direct sunlight.

But the Essex County Conservation Alliance believes solar “farms” is a misnomer. They believe that in all cases such sites should undergo a rezoning process to become industrial use areas because a solar farm is an industrial enterprise that is wholly unrelated to and not supportive of any farm or forestry use. The construction of a solar power generation site on land previously dedicated to farming in reality undermines the underlying farm utility because the site is typically cleared of much of its topsoil, compacted and then chemically treated to control plant growth.

Worse, the costly recycling of solar panels, which contain many toxic chemicals, are costs not built typically into the business model. The Essex County Conservation Alliance feared those future costs might fall into the lap of the county. So, their final position is that an environmental impact survey and economic survey of solar farms driving down property values and tourism be conducted in conjunction with every solar “farm” project.

The Essex County Conservation Alliance’s major concerns lead directly to the question of the economic vitality of limited liability solar energy companies like Sun Tribe Solar LLC. What happens when LLCs go bankrupt? They noted that solar farms can be shuttered and leave the county holding the bag:

"The solar farm corporation that leases the farmland is almost always a limited liability company, often thinly capitalized under a business model propped up by energy tax credits and legislative incentives. There is no guarantee that it will stay in business for the term of the lease, or, if it goes out of business, that it will have the financial resources to pay the waste clean-up and decommissioning costs. There are many solar farm LLCs that have declared bankruptcy in recent years."[32]

In short, the Essex County Conservation Alliance’s key question leads directly to the economic viability of Sun Tribe LLC. This, in turn, leads to the question of whether Energix or Alony Hetz could ever be compelled to clean up installations at the end of lengthy leases. But the Sun Tribe team couldn’t, and didn’t respond to these questions. After getting no response, Rob Corradi apparently decided to brief White with some talking points by phone, rather than writing, so there would be plausible deniability:

I'll put together some facts/talking points that you can sent [sic] to Dr. White, but I know I haven't reached out directly. Might be best if that continued contact comes from you.

I'd also say that we'd be happy to help him answer any specific questions that pop up in the future -- that he knows he can use us as a resource if he's getting inquiries he's not sure how to respond to from stakeholders.

And while I wouldn't put this part in writing, I'd maybe let him know that we've seen pockets of opposition to solar pop up in other communities throughout Virginia, and the opposition isn't grounded in any kind of real facts or genuine questions, but usually by people who are just looking for ways to object because they're anti-renewable energy on broad political grounds (which is likely what he's seeing here), have heard seen stuff on the internet that isn't true but people aren't particularly knowledgable [sic] about the science, or are generally a bit NIMBY-ish. [not in my backyard][33]

Perhaps as greater numbers of non-VIAB insiders understand the consequences to taxpayers and potentially to the environment of the predatory deals motivating Sun Tribe and Energix and Alony Hetz to contract as many solar systems to mostly unsuspecting, under advised, but land-holding public school officials as possible, the “pockets of opposition” will become more effective.

Previous Table of Contents Next


[1] Hoc, Dov “What VIAB Does and How it Benefits Virginia” Speech at the Weinstein Jewish Community Center, April 4, 2019

[2] Clicking Clean Virginia: The Dirty Energy Powering Data Center Alley, Greenpeace, February 13, 2019, https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/reports/click-clean-virginia/

[3] Froese, Michelle, “Amazon responds to Greenpeace report — remains committed to 100% renewables,” Windpower Engineering Development, February 13, 2019, https://www.windpowerengineering.com/business-news-projects/amazon-responds-to-greenpeace-report-remains-committed-to-100-renewables/

[4] “Integrated Resource Plan,” Dominion Energy, 2018, p.173 https://www.dominionenergy.com/library/domcom/media/about-us/making-energy/2018-irp.pdf

[5] Rural Caucus of the Democratic Party of Virginia, Rural VA Dems, consulted October 3, 2019, https://www.ruralvadems.org/

[6] “Energix Group” Who Profits – The Israeli Occupation Industry. https://whoprofits.org/company/energix-group-0/

[7] “Alony-Hetz Properties  & Investments LTD,” American Friends Service Committee, updated June 25, 2019 https://investigate.afsc.org/company/alony-hetz

[8] “The Virginia-Israel Advisory Board Taxpayer-Funded Israel Lobbying Inside State Government - Reconstitution from Governor's Office to the Legislature “ IRmep, The Israel Lobby Archive, https://IsraelLobby.org/viab/

[9] Phillips, Jenn, “Solar farm meeting held in Gladys,” The Altavista Journal, July 19, 2019. http://www.altavistajournal.com/news/article_a5dc1f6c-aa16-11e9-9280-670d9aa0c511.html

[10]“General Notice - Caden Energix Gladys LLC -Notice of Intent - Small Renewable Energy Project (Solar),” Virginia Regulatory Town Hall, consulted 10/3/2019 https://www.townhall.virginia.gov/L/ViewNotice.cfm?gnid=1021

[11] Energix – Renewal Energies Ltd., Periodic Report for 2018, http://www.energix-group.com/uploads/1558340078.pdf

[12] “General Notice - Caden Energix Wytheville LLC-Notice of Intent - Small Renewable Energy Project (Solar),” Virginia Regulatory Town Hall, consulted 10/3/2019 https://www.townhall.virginia.gov/L/ViewNotice.cfm?gnid=1024

[13] “General Notice - Caden Energix Jarratt LLC-Notice of Intent - Small Renewable Energy Project (Solar),” Virginia Regulatory Town Hall, consulted 10/3/2019 https://www.townhall.virginia.gov/L/ViewNotice.cfm?gnid=1023

[14] McGee, David, “Energy center finally has tenants, but facility still mostly vacant” Herald Courier, April 20, 2016 https://www.heraldcourier.com/news/energy-center-finally-has-tenants-but-facility-still-mostly-vacant/article_ec457b5c-b2a8-53b9-9925-0a8467d11153.html

[15] Virginia Israel Advisory Board, meeting minutes, July 18, 2017, https://vchr.org/viab_foia_responses/07182017.html

[16] “Wise County: $500,000 for development of a solar energy system for the Mineral Gap Data Center." Times News, July 31, 2019 https://www.timesnews.net/Government/2019/07/31/Data-center-gets-500-000-federal-grant-for-solar-power-system

[17] “Bill Nusbaum Named to Virginia Israel Advisory Board” Williams Mullen, July 1, 2019 https://www.williamsmullen.com/news/bill-nusbaum-named-virginia-israel-advisory-board

[18] Virginia Israel Advisory Board, meeting minutes, July 29, 2014

[19] Virginia State Division of Corporations database.

[20] Luck, Ashley, “Three King William schools to be powered by solar panel project,” Daily Press, February 12, 2019 https://www.dailypress.com/virginiagazette/va-vg-tr-kw-suntribe-solar-project-20190125-story.html

[21] Middlesex County Board of Supervisors, Meeting Minutes, December 5, 2017, page 3 https://www.co.middlesex.va.us/Board%20of%20Supervisors/BOS%20Packets/2017/12-5-17%20Packet.pdf

[22] Truong, Debbie, “Virginia Schools have seen the light, and it’s solar,” The Washington Post, March 24, 2019.

[23] Request for Conceptual Proposals 01FY18, Solar Photovoltaic Rooftop System Installation and Sale of Generated Electricity, Arlington Public Schools, public hearing, July 13, 2018, https://www.apsva.us/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/RFP-01FY18-Solar-Power-PPT.pdf

[24] “Expanding Access to Clean Energy and Growing the Clean Energy Jobs of the Future,” Executive Order, Office of the Governor, Commonwealth of Virginia, Number 43, 2019 https://www.governor.virginia.gov/media/governorvirginiagov/executive-actions/EO-43-Expanding-Access-to-Clean-Energy-and-Growing-the-Clean-Energy-Jobs-of-the-Future.pdf

[25] Obtained via VFOIA from the school system.

[26] Van der Vaart, Donald, “North Carolina Energy Company Finds Solar Power Actually Increases Pollution,” The Federalist, October 4, 2019 https://thefederalist.com/2019/10/04/north-carolina-energy-company-finds-solar-power-actually-increases-pollution/

[27] “Solar Electricity Costs” citing the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and expert studies at http://www.solarcellcentral.com/cost_page.html

[28] Net Present Value is the current day “lump sum” value of money expected from future cash inflows and outflows. Like an “offtake” agreement, a solid NPV calculation backed by a contract can allow a company to access capital from investors and calculate its own profits. A high NPV from a portfolio of contracts increases a company’s value for the purposes of its own sale or initial public offering.

[29] Correspondence released under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act by the King William County Public Schools. See: King Williams County Schools superintendent David White forwards concerns expressed by local groups to Sun Tribe Solar.  Http://IsraelLobby.org/Suntribe/09302019_email._R.pdf

[30] The Essex County Conservation Alliance. “Industrial Solar Farms: An In-Depth Look at How Industrial Solar Farms Impact the Rural Tidewater Counties of the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck.”

[31] Correspondence released under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act by the King William County Public Schools. See: King Williams County Schools superintendent David White forwards concerns expressed by local groups to Sun Tribe Solar.  Http://IsraelLobby.org/Suntribe/09302019_email._R.pdf

[32] The Essex County Conservation Alliance. “Industrial Solar Farms: An In-Depth Look at How Industrial Solar Farms Impact the Rural Tidewater Counties of the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck.”

[33] Correspondence released under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act by the King William County Public Schools. See: King Williams County Schools superintendent David White forwards concerns expressed by local groups to Sun Tribe Solar.  Http://IsraelLobby.org/Suntribe/09302019_email._R.pdf