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President Obama’s 2008 election brought money and emphasis to alternative energy in the United States. For some former lobbyists and politicians, this emphasis became an entrepreneurial opportunity.

A 2009 article in the Sacramento Business Journal reported that former lieutenant governor Cruz Bustamante and a former San Diego port commissioner joined Go Green Consultants LLC to partner with solar-panel installers to “reduce school districts’ and other municipalities’ energy bills and dependence on the power grid.”

Political consultant and lobbyist Art Castañares also went into the solar-panel business. Castañares was a former aide to Steve Peace and the consultant behind Cheryl Cox’s 2006 election to mayor of Chula Vista.

In 2008, the San Ysidro School District signed a contract with Castañares’s business, Manzana Energy, which allowed the company to build solar panels on the school sites and sell the electricity generated by the panels.

According to a 2008 Union-Tribune article, the district agreed to buy “all the power the panels generate over 25 years for a flat fee of $18.9 million. Manzana will pay $16 million to buy and install the panels.”

But, no panels have been installed and no power generated. Why not? And why has Manzana (also known as EcoBusiness) filed a lawsuit against the San Ysidro School District for “compensatory damages” that may exceed $17 million?

Castañares says there have been unanticipated problems in getting the panels in place. During a June 18 interview, Castañares said the initial idea was to put Manzana’s panels on school building roofs. However, the company found the roofs would not support the weight of the panels and began to work on designs for alternative locations.

But, by October 2011, the district had had enough. San Ysidro’s attorney, Dan Shinoff, commented, "Since 2008, when the district entered into a contract with the company, the only thing done was to clear a lot for a photo op."

Referring to the same lot, Castañares argues that it rained shortly after his company cleared the four-acre site in 2010. The rain revealed a drainage problem, which delayed the project further.

Castañares said his company has maintained an office in the district since 2009. He can’t understand why the district didn’t come to them to resolve the problems rather than abruptly terminating the contract.

Castañares believes Manzana/Ecobusiness has a strong suit because they were not terminated according to contract language and because, Castañares says, “We have a good law firm that has successfully sued a lot of public agencies.” Castañares added, “We begged them to arbitrate; it makes me sick to have to do this to a school district.”

When asked if Manzana has any solar-generating projects up and running, Castañares said “not yet,” though he is working on one with the YMCA.

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Comments

erupting June 20, 2012 @ 8:36 a.m.

Please tell me that they do not work for Sweetwater? It's scarey how these people drift between SWC,San Ysidro and Sweetwater.

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johndewey June 20, 2012 @ 8:58 a.m.

It seems the company should have checked out those roofs before signing the contract. No?

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bonitaresident June 20, 2012 @ 9:12 a.m.

well johndewey, it appears that 'all of that green' that prop o bond monies paid for in the construction of those new 2 story classrooms that were SUPPOSE to house solar for sweetwater - IT WAS ALL FOR NAUGHT.

SUPPOSEDLY, the roofs are too small - that is what i am hearing.

1

Sjtorres June 20, 2012 @ 4:16 p.m.

The incompetence at San Ysidro is rivaled only by the crooks at Sweetwater-Union and Southwestern College. And oh by the way, mostly the same friends and families involved.

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VigilantinCV June 20, 2012 @ 8:23 p.m.

This is indeed a new business model. Gull a tiny, poor school district into signing a multi-million dollar contract, and then sue them for damages when you cannot perform. The YMCA is in double-peril because I believe that Art Castanares is a member of their Board of Directors.

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Susan Luzzaro June 20, 2012 @ 8:24 p.m.

Sjtorres,

There are rumors that make the same connections that you are making. If you have anything that I should follow up, please don't hesitate to click on my name and send me your tip. Thank you, Susan

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eastlaker June 21, 2012 @ 10:22 p.m.

Looks like someone figured out a new way to take money from school children!

Please tell me this will stop sometime soon...

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hugh3517 Aug. 7, 2012 @ 9:54 a.m.

I have also been told Mr. Castanares is on the YMCA board. I may be missing something here, but doesn't his position on the Y BOD and his interest in the potential YMCA solar project scream "conflict of interest"?

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