By New Times
By Connor Radnovich
By Robrt L. Pela and Amy Silverman
By Ray Stern
By Keegan Hamilton
By Matthew Hendley
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
Such feelings may be understandable, to some extent. In December, a group of 25 solar companies in the United States and Europe filed a trade complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission alleging that Chinese firms, with the backing of the Chinese government, had dumped low-cost solar panels into the market.
However, the complaint was filed because Chinese firms haven't been shy about getting into the U.S. solar market.
The Asian representatives of Matinee, though, are Korean, not Chinese.
These representatives always have seemed nervous about their connection to the Pannos brothers, at times appearing "physically uncomfortable" with the brothers in meetings, Graves says. He says he doesn't know why the Koreans chose to do business with the Pannoses in the first place.
Over the past nine months, he says, the Koreans — including Matinee's new president, Chin Kim — appear to have taken control of the company.
In 2011, Graves says, the firm didn't seem serious about moving ahead on the deal and failed to do "due diligence" in preparing to buy his property. He wouldn't provide details, saying only that things just weren't "jelling." He says he asked Matinee to pay him a $100,000 non-refundable deposit as earnest money.
The company stalled, but Chin Kim finally cut him a check. Matinee continued to act flaky, Graves maintains, so he gave back the firm's money, saying he wanted a "clean break."
The Korean representatives pressed him to keep the deal floating and later gave him another $100,000 check, which Graves kept.
The Koreans always had been part of the company, Graves says Christopher Pannos later told him.
Solar makes sense for his property, whether or not Matinee is behind the project, Graves insists. He shrugs off the power company's comments to New Times that the nearby transmission lines aren't big enough for the project and that no one has agreed to buy the power, if it is produced.
"There are other transmission lines, other possibilities," he says. When asked what those are, Graves has no answer: "I guess you'll have to draw your own conclusions."
Graves is hedging his bets: He plans to operate a separate natural-gas-powered electricity-generation plant on his land that could produce anywhere from 40 to 450 megawatts of power 24 hours a day to augment the power generation from the solar panels.
He vows to "bring someone else in" to construct a solar plant if the Matinee deal falls through.
It seems wise to plan for Matinee's collapse. Indeed, the would-be energy company already has tried and failed to put a solar plant on Paragon Ranch, a mix of state and federal land near the Navajo Nation. The Hyundai Heavy deal appears kaput — there's no mention of it on any of Matinee's websites. Hyundai Heavy gave conflicting answers to business reporters last year as to whether the deal was still on and didn't respond to New Times' inquiries by press time.
The Benson conditional-use permit application and engineering paperwork by Matinee shows KEPCO KDN as its partner in the solar-farm project.
The name certainly lends the project credibility, because it happens to be the technology division of South Korea's national public utility.
But a representative of the national utility, reached by phone in South Korea, tells New Times that KEPCO KDN no longer is part of any Matinee Energy project.
Representatives of the Korean company came to Arizona in December to discuss a role in the potential solar farm, the company confirms, but KEPCO KDN has no plans to get re-involved. The spokesman refused to elaborate.
At this point, Matinee seems to have lost its ties to major firms.
Its now-former partner, Zentric, has a mailing address in Scottsdale. The address belongs to the tiny Scottsdale Airpark office of Eastbridge Investments, owned by Valley resident Norm Klein, who also is Tien's business partner in the Alpha Lujo electric-car shell company. Klein's business has been trying to help Asian companies go public in the United States, reporting on its website that it has several deals in the works.
Klein referred questions about Zentric to William Tien, president of Zentric and Alpha Lujo, who confirmed that his company holds the engineering contract for the 120-megawatt solar farm on Graves' land.
"The whole project is funded by third-party reputed institutions that we have helped [bring] in," he says.
He signs off, "We welcome any future inquiries on the Benson solar project."
On April 2, New Times sent him a list of specific questions — such as how a development-stage battery company without many assets could build a large solar facility — but Tien never responded. Two days later, he announced that Zentric was no longer part of the Benson project.
Matinee Energy leases 9,400 square feet in the National Bank of Arizona office complex at 335 North Wilmot Road in north Tucson. The sparsely furnished, second-floor suite has been inhabited by the company for about six weeks when it agrees to a February 23 interview. Five people can be seen working there, including the receptionist.
David Lee, an Asian man in his 50s, leads New Times to a conference room. Lee says he's from Matinee's "corporate general administration" but declines to state his title with the firm.