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Failed energy projects cross U.S. party lines

By Aamer Madhani

USA TODAY

Published: Friday, Oct. 14 2011 10:54 p.m. MDT

Three months after Hatch wrote the letter, Raser's vice president of marketing, David West, joined Hatch in Washington for a news conference to endorse clean- energy legislation Hatch was sponsoring.

At another news conference after the power plant's groundbreaking in 2008, Hatch noted that Raser was "supportive" of legislation he co-sponsored with then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., that offered tax incentives for consumers and manufacturers of plug-in electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

A year later, in May 2009, Hatch test drove a Raser prototype of a hybrid Hummer on Capitol Hill and called on Obama to ditch a plan to sell the Hummer line to China as part of General Motors' restructuring. That deal collapsed and GM ceased producing the Hummer last year.

Despite these ties, Harakal downplayed Hatch's familiarity with Raser's geothermal project that bears his name. Instead, Harakal said, Hatch's interest in the plant was no different than his support of any innovative Utah business: "Sen. Hatch touts Utah's economy, workforce and the technologies it produces when he can."

The plant and problems

Court documents and SEC filings paint a portrait of a company and power plant that never seemed to have sure footing. For example, the "latest technology" that Hatch touted at the plant groundbreaking — low-wattage power generators manufactured by Pratt & Whitney subsidiary UTC Power — had never been used on such a large-scale project.

Last month, Raser sued UTC Power in federal court, saying UTC duped Raser when it sold Raser 50 of its PureCycle generation units to power the plant. The units were connected like a computer network to generate electricity.

UTC, Raser claims, misrepresented the units' abilities to produce 11 megawatts of electricity. The plant has produced an average of 5 to 7 megawatts of power for its one customer — the city of Anaheim — since it began operating in the fall of 2008, according to Steve Sciortino, assistant manager for Anaheim's utilities department.

Pratt & Whitney spokesman Matthew Bates said the generation units aren't to blame.

The PureCycle units, he said, performed at or above capacity and that Raser touted its relationship with Pratt &Whitney to potential investors long after all the generators were installed in February 2009.

"We are grateful for our strong partnership with PWPS and appreciate their commitment to helping us develop these geothermal power plants," former Raser CEO Brent Cook said in an April 2009 news release. "They … stand behind their modular units, which continue to perform at higher levels than expected."

Raser erred, Bates said, by building its plant on a geothermal field that didn't produce enough heat to create enough hot water for electricity. During the two years after the installation of the generators, Raser kept drilling well fields around the Hatch Plant to increase output but never found enough to allow it to generate the electricity it needed to keep up with its mounting debt, the company's SEC filings show.

"Had they found what they thought they were going to find in the ground, we wouldn't be at this point," Bates said. "It would have been a success story — a revolutionary project."

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