Matinee Energy, a company with plans to build several large solar-power plants in Arizona, says a founder who once ran a bogus gold-mining scheme no longer has a role in the firm.
Yet many questions remain about the mystery company, which reportedly has contracts with Hyundai Heavy and KEPCO KDN, the information-technology division of KEPCO, South Koreas' national power utility company.
The company's plan to build a 120-megawatt solar-panel "farm" on land owned by Ernie Graves of Whetstone Partners will be considered before the Benson Planning and Zoning Commission tonight.
In February, Matinee announced a "groundbreaking" for a "solar campus" in another part of Benson.
And in October, Hyundai Heavy told Bloomberg Businessweek that it had not abandoned plans to build large solar-power plants in Arizona with Matinee.
Matinee claims to be a major source of solar-power-plant financing and experience, and would become one of Arizona's biggest solar players if plans to build plants totaling hundreds of mega-watts come through. Yet the company shows signs of being under-funded -- most visibly in its amateurish Web site, which appears under a new domain name. The company's previous domain, www.matineeenergy.com, doesn't even forward to the new URL. Throughout February, Matinee's phone number connected with a voicemail that was frequently too full to take messages.
Another enigmatic company called Metroby, which has contacted the city of Benson in connection with the Matinee project, lists Matinee Energy on its Web site as one of three partners, the other two being an international attorneys office and New Jersey's Lucas Capital Management.
Here's what Mary Beth Glaccum, Lucas Capital's director of Investment Relations and Business Development, told us in an e-mail when we inquired about Metroby: "We do not have any relationship with this organization and have contacted our attorneys to take appropriate action."
Glaccum later clarified her response, stating in another e-mail that, "We do not know or have any relationship (past or present) with any of the enities or parties you have listed."
Meanwhile, Matinee is trying to distance itself from one of its founders, Christopher Pannos, a Nevadan man who ran a bogus gold-mining scheme in the 1980s in Arizona.
New Times reported the connection in August of 2010, a few days after Matinee reportedly inked a deal with South Korean shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy to build solar plants in Dragoon and Cochise. Back then, Matinee vice-president Chris Connell told us that Christopher Pannos wasn't an employee of the company, even though he was listed as a manager of the company in Nevada corporate records. Those older records also showed brother Michael Pannos and Nevada resident Larry Knight as principles.
Michael Pannos was the chairman of the company at the time of the Hyundai deal announcement, according to one of Matinee's news releases.
Yet "based upon records," the Pannos brothers no longer have role with the company, Matinee representative David Lee told New Times in late February.
Lee did not clarify the statement.
If he's right, the Arizona corporate records have evidently not yet been updated. Michael Pannos is still listed as a director.
Other names are listed on Matinee's Arizona and Nevada corporate records along with Pannos: S. Chin Kim, the president, and Young Yoo, the secretary.
We'd been chatting with Lee at a conference table in the Tucson office of Matinee Energy, located on the second floor at 335 North Wilmot Street, in the National Bank of Arizona complex. Although we'd identified ourselves clearly at the beginning of our interview, our questions about the Pannos brothers stoked Lee's memory. He asked if we wrote the August 2010 blog post about Matinee Energy, to which we answered "yes."
"They are in the process of suing you!" he said. "I need to terminate the meeting."
New Times has received no indication of a lawsuit or claim by Matinee since we published the 2010 article. Not so much as a request for a correction, even.
Before we got kicked out, Lee told us a couple of other notable things -- though it was what he didn't say that we found most interesting. For instance, Lee claimed that the company has offices in New York City and San Francisco, but didn't want to say where they were. He claims Matinee Energy "owns" 15 solar plants, but won't say where they're located.
The company's Nevada office has been closed, he said.
Knight says he still owns some shares in the company, but has taken a lesser role in the firm and couldn't talk about its current leadership or plans.
Ernie Graves, the landowner for the proposed solar farm in Benson, has for years been trying to develop about 1,100 acres a few miles away from the world-famous Kartchner Caverns. A planned housing development that fell through left Graves' company bankrupt and owing millions to the National Bank of Arizona.
Graves tells New Times he's had some problems in dealing with the company, and hasn't done any sort of background check into it.
However, he says that after Matinee cut him a $100,000 check as a "non-refundable" deposit as part of its push to put the solar farm on his property, he trusts Matinee will be able to fulfill its promises.
Tonight's planning and zoning meeting in Benson is to consider a conditional use permit for the solar farm on Graves' land, say city officials. A review of the permit application shows that Matinee hired an engineering company that compiled a report on the project's potential impact to the land, and give an overview of the power plants. Both a natural gas power-plant and solar panels are being planned in order to provide 24-hour power to sell to the local power utility.
Lee tells New Times that city officials have all but "okay'd" the project.
In fact, the conditional use permit, if it is approved, is only a preliminary step. Matinee would still need building permits and approval from the state Corporation Commission to run the proposed power plants. As the San Pedro Valley News-Sun reported on February 22, no plans or applications for the construction have yet been submitted. We checked with the city yesterday -- still no plans.
The project has come up in Benson city meetings three times previously. Minutes from the meetings show some consternation by unnamed citizens with Matinee's secrecy, and environmental concerns that include the potential impact from the eventual grading of Graves' land. (Presumably, though, the impact would be less than the previously planned housing development.)
It seems likely to assume that, at some point, Matinee's projects -- which would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build -- would seek to obtain millions in public subsidies or loan guarantees.
We plan to write more about Matinee Energy, so if you know anything about it (or Metroby, or Greenstone System, another Matinee partner), feel free to share.