By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
By New Times
No agreement has been made yet to hook up Matinee's potential electricity to existing power lines. The 120-megawatt solar farm site is 10 miles from a transmission line that could carry the power, and the firm hasn't begun the process to construct new power lines. Laying new lines would cost millions of dollars and take years to complete — not exactly a "cost-cutting" plan.
If Matinee were backed by heavyweight investors, its claims would have to be taken seriously.
But Matinee has no visible financial backing and won't talk about what major investors, if any, it has.
Matinee also refused to comment after the company was accused of lying by a major U.S. investment firm.
Ironically, for a company that claims to deal in sunshine, Matinee Energy prefers keeping the public in the dark.
These are the Wild West days of solar power.
With the public focused on renewable energy to ease the threat of climate change and reduce dependence on foreign oil, generating electricity from sunlight never has been more popular. Governments around the world offer significant financial incentives to solar projects of all kinds, and recent drops in prices for solar panels have helped make the technology more affordable.
The industry is going through a high-tech gold rush, as highly competitive companies jostle to provide a range of services, from residential rooftop structures to large-scale power plants.
Matinee is in the latter category, trying to position itself as a big-time player that will create jobs and bring enough sun-powered energy to power tens of thousands of homes.
Clearly, the firm, incorporated in Nevada in 2006, has invested several years and tens — if not hundreds — of thousands of dollars in its Arizona proposals. Dozens of people have been involved in the plans, including — at times — representatives of well-known, reputable firms in the United States and Asia.
But Matinee hides the kind of information that other solar companies brag about. Though its officials claim to have built many solar plants it still owns, little evidence could be found to back up the company's bold claims about its capabilities, experience, and financial stability.
Information in records and from interviews with people familiar with the firm reveal — with a couple of notable exceptions — that Matinee has little hope of pulling off large-scale projects.
In early March, Matinee announced that it had teamed up with another low-profile company, Zentric Inc., to build the Benson solar-panel farm. The joint news release said Matinee had "awarded" Zentric an engineering contract that would have a construction budget of up to $444 million. The first 20-megawatt phase was supposed to be built entirely by Zentric in the next 12 months, with Zentric expecting a payment of $72 million from Matinee.
Which sounded great, except that Matinee or Zentric show little sign of having completed any project, of any kind, anywhere.
Zentric is a penny-stock company that must supply details about itself to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, so it's not quite the black hole of information that Matinee is.
Filings show Zentric as a would-be high-tech battery company that started doing business in 2007 as Constant Environment, a would-be manufacturer of "micro-climate" technology that could protect rare artifacts. Its president is William Tien, a Chinese self-described broker of financial deals for various tech projects. He lives in Australia, where Zentric apparently is based.
Tien also is head of Alpha Lujo, a firm that hopes to someday mass-produce Chinese electric cars. Neither he nor Jeff Mak, his CEO, report any experience in solar power or claim to have managed any other construction projects.
Yet these guys claimed in their published contract with Matinee, dated January 7, that they would "supply Matinee Energy with a turnkey photovoltaic installation" on the 900-acre site.
Tien's two companies are broke. Zentric's only assets are $252,000 in shares of Alpha Lujo's stock. Alpha Lujo, which was formed in 2006 as an online retailer using the now-defunct websites www.rsvpgiftbaskets.com and www.vitaminsnmore.net, owes $1.5 million to its investors.
Both companies are listed on the Over-the-Counter Bulletin Board, an SEC-monitored stock information and trading service. Their latest financial filings — from last fall — state that the companies are unlikely to continue as "going concerns" without an infusion of new capital.
New Times pressed Tien in e-mails to answer questions about the contract with Matinee Energy.
Just before press time, Zentric announced that it was pulling out of the Benson solar-plant deal.
In an April 4 letter from Tien to Matinee Energy, Tien wrote, "We sincerely regret this action but since we have been unable to arrange for sufficient financing in a timely manner to meet your deadline, we do not wish to create any further delays for Matinee Energy as you try to begin construction."
The letter, filed with the SEC, was followed by an Internet news release in which Tien stated, "We hope that in the very near future the parties will be in a position to re-evaluate their working arrangement."
Though this news clearly constitutes a setback, it's conceivable that Matinee could patch things up with Zentric or forge ahead with a new partner and investors.