When Stion Corp., a manufacturer of thin film solar panels, announced in October that it would close its Hattiesburg, Mississippi operations, the Mississippi Business Journal called it “the latest failure of the Barbour years” – referring, of course, to former Governor Haley Barbour’s ambitious endeavor to establish Mississippi as a leader in green energy.
Throughout his tenure, he led millions in state investments in green technology manufacturing and, since then, four high profile projects have gone belly up.
It’s estimated that Barbour’s initiative has left Mississippi taxpayers on the hook for $185 million in tax breaks and incentives they’ve provided for this sector, but the former governor isn’t shouldering all the blame here: an auditor with the state of Mississippi is hitting back hard against Stion, ruling this week that the failed solar panel maker owes the state $93 million.
In a letter delivered to Stion, auditor Stacey Pickering details the state’s suffering at the hands of the panel maker. Stion borrowed $75 million in order to set up shop, failed to pay $2 million in property taxes and also owes $16 million in interest.
The letter threatens Stion with a lawsuit if it doesn’t repay the state within 30 days, which appears inevitable because the company’s plan for paying off its debts is… not good. After Stion closed its doors, it signed its assets over to a third-party company who is tasked with selling them and using the proceeds to pay off creditors. The equipment in the leased factory was used as collateral against the loans, and though the company is working to sell it, it says it’s “unlikely that the assets will realize the full amount of the state auditor's demand." Really? There’s not $90 million worth of equipment in there, huh…
The other problem is that the state of Mississippi is in line with private investors who also shelled out some $200 million to get Stion off the ground. The third party selling the company’s assets says no creditors have received any money at this point.