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Ministry reopened bid process for a California solar company to compete

US Ambassador Solomont lobbies on behalf of private firm, dispatches show

US diplomats in Madrid reportedly intervened to allow a California-based company to compete for a lucrative Spanish government contract to build a 50-megawatt solar thermal power plant, cables released by WikiLeaks suggest.

Ministry of Industry, Tourism, and Commerce officials allegedly opened a 20-day window so that the California SolarReserve could submit a new offer this month. The Santa Monica-based company was disqualified from the original bidding process last year for not meeting the deadline date and presenting a bid with an energy capacity greater than allowed.

A government resolution, according to sources familiar with the matter, was issued after US Ambassador Alan Solomont made a request to Minister Miguel Sebastián to look for "an alternate legal route."

In a January 26 cable, Solomont "emphasized" during a meeting with Sebastián and Pedro Marín, then-secretary of state for Industry, "the importance he placed on favorable government of Spain consideration of two proposed solar electricity investments." One of those projects was SolarReserve and the other dealt with the permits granted to Nextra, a Florida Power & Light subsidiary, to build plants in Extremadura.

Solomont noted that Spanish companies were "the largest recipients" in the United States for President Obama's job stimulus funding for renewable energy projects. "He also wanted favorable consideration of US companies' proposed investments in Spain," the cable said.

Sebastián explained that the government had seen more interest than expected in both solar photovoltaic electricity and thermosolar projects. The companies competing were guaranteed generous feed-in tariffs. To encourage this "bubbles" in both areas burst, the government changed the registration process, which Sebastián explained upset many Spanish companies.

Solomont said that SolarReserve "was willing to accept a tariff that was significantly lower" than other companies. He noted it in the cable as "a condition of the alternate legal route." The ambassador then asked the official to "see if anything could be done."

They explained that "it would be difficult" but Sebastián " promised to take another look," the ambassador wrote.On November 26, a new 20-day period was opened to allow the bidding for a giant 50-megawatt plant and two smaller ones.

Ministry officials said they would not comment on any WikiLeaks cables and, because the bids were still being studied, they could not say how many companies had submitted tenders.