The arc of justice is long

Dean Alford

Earlier this afternoon the Atlanta Journal Constitution sent out a news alert concerning the resignation of Dean Alford, a member of the Georgia University System’s  Board of Regents. Alford was recently reappointed to the Board by Governor Brian Kemp.

The newspaper details that the Georgia  Attorney General and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation issued arrest warrants for Alford for creating a fraudulent invoice submitted to the state, and for forging the signature of a university employee.

What did Alford do?

The paper’s coverage includes, “Alford is accused of creating a fraudulent invoice acknowledgement form, dated Sept. 24, to submit to a company called Versant, state officials said. The document is alleged to have falsely asserted that the University of Georgia would pay Versant $487,982.88 to satisfy a debt owed to Alford’s own company, Allied Energy Services, LLC, located in Rockdale County.”

That’s not the biggest amount of money, according to the AJC. The article continues with, “He’s also suspected of transmitting fraudulent documents to Versant to make the company believe he had legitimate purchase agreements and accounts receivable with various entities, state officials said. Alford was attempting to sell such accounts receivable to Versant in exchange for $1,798,327.06, investigators said. ”

Alford purchased Allied Energy Services for pennies on the dollar when a judge ordered Cobb Energy holdings, a private shareholding company spun off from the nonprofit Cobb EMC, to be dissolved. Alford’s “haul” at Cobb EMC, the electric membership co-op in the north Atlanta suburbs, was close to $18Million according to 2015 news coverage.

But there’s more. Much more.

Allied Energy Services was awarded a no-bid contract to develop Plant Washington, a $6Billion proposed coal plant that soaked up millions of dollars from EMCs in Georgia under the umbrella of Power for Georgians. The electric co-op in Washington County, Washington EMC, sunk $1Million of member-owner dollars into the boondoggle plant, slated to be built just miles from my home, and the homes of a small group of local citizens who became the Fall-Line Alliance for a Clean Environment (FACE). Alford never secured financing, power purchase agreements, or customers. FACE has never wavered in its grassroots committment to protecting our natural resources and the health of our families and friends.

January 25, 2012

The adventures of FACE, and those of others in Washington County, have been detailed on this blog since Plant Washington was proposed in January 2008. The saga involves seeing fellow citizens for who they truly are, or are not. FACE leaders earned the rights to our story through hard work and selfless determination.

I’ll close here by adding that FACE and our partners have waited years to throw the biggest celebration to ever happen in Washington County. We’ve got a party to plan and invitations to send to those who stood with us.

Sleeping with the Enemy

The Friday Photo
June 26, 2015

Not a photo this week, but a fond remembrance, in two parts, of a campaign where a picture and few words told the story (It won a national marketing award for “Best Villian.” I wish I could claim the idea as my own.)

Sleeping with the Enemy frontSleeping with the Enemy back

The Fat Lady is looking through her sheet music

After 8.5 years, a lot of questions about Plant Washington, Cobb EMC, and Cobb Energy, a for-profit company created by Dwight Brown while he ran the state’s largest electric co-op, have been answered after a forensic audit conducted for Cobb EMC was released by Channel 2 News in Atlanta last week. (A forensic audit is a type of financial audit that is conducted concerning possible fraud or misconduct.)

The document, which includes a 150+ page Executive Summary, also shines a bright light on Plant Washington, which Washington EMC leaders spent $1Million pursuing. Allied Energy Services, run by Brown’s crony Dean Alford, holds a no-bid contract to develop Plant Washington.

The audit includes some big numbers. Dwight Brown and his wife Mary Ellen, received over $20Million in payments, loans, benefits, and preferred stock from Cobb EMC and Cobb Energy, a for-profit company, established in 1998 under Brown’s directive.

Brown’s private business partner and Vice-President at Cobb Energy, Dean Alford, hauled in about $18Million in payments and benefits, according to the audit.

Alford was selected by Brown to serve on the Cobb Energy Board. From there Alford landed CEO appointments to Allied Utility Network and Allied Energy Services, both owned by Cobb Energy. The auditors wrote that they, “found no evidence that Cobb Energy reviewed or approved any business plan for any of the businesses it acquired or created.” The audit states that, with the exception of perhaps two entities, neither of them being Allied Energy Services of Allied Utility Network, “all of the Cobb Energy spinoffs lost money, some on a grand scale.”

Cobb Energy gave Allied Utility Network $5.9M by moving money from the nonprofit Cobb co-op to Cobb Energy, the for-profit company that, according to the audit, was anything but a profit generator. The audit reports that Cobb Energy general ledger entries totaling $4M appear to have funded Allied Energy, but the bookkeeping isn’t precise (lack of clear bookkeeping records is just one of the many criticisms raised in the audit).

So what about Allied Energy Services, Plant Washington, and the group of co-ops, including Washington EMC, that organized Power4Georgians (P4G) to support Plant Washington (and another coal-fired plant to be located in Ben Hill County) that Brown and Alford were touting years ago?

Allied Energy Services, led by Alford, secured the no-bid contract to develop coal-fired Plant Washington, even though, as the audit states, “neither Alford nor Allied had any experience building or developing a coal-fired power plant, and witnesses indicated he was hired on the basis of a recommendation by Dwight Brown.”  Alford also heads P4G, which continues to promote Plant Washington even though all of the original EMCs that made up the consortium have ceased funding the project. P4G has already dropped plans for the second facility, which would have been called Plant Ben Hill.

Large tracts of land for both coal plant sites have been bought or tied up in contracts by several companies in amounts that totaled in the millions.

Where all that money came from is among the audit’s more interesting findings.

Monies paid to Cobb EMC by its members went to more than the for-profit companies owned by Cobb Energy. Both Alumni Properties LLC, which was involved in land acquisitions for the Ben Hill coal plant, and Buster and Brown, LLC, another private real estate venture, are linked to Dean Alford and his boss at Cobb Energy, Dwight Brown.

But there were even more land companies, including Ben Hill Timberland, LLC and Washington Timberland, LLC. Washington Timberland, LLC, as readers of Rural and Progressive may remember, has a history of late property tax payments in Washington County.

Dean Alford and P4G cancelled Plant Ben Hill over three years ago, but the audit raises questions about whether it was ever a real project.  The audit says that “Senior Cobb EMC officers…advised that Plant Ben Hill was a ‘decoy” designed as a subterfuge to keep land prices lower in Washington County.”

Which raises troubling questions about Plant Washington and whether it was ever a viable proposal, or merely a scheme designed to enrich P4G.  In January of 2012, Cobb EMC Board members ceased funding Plant Washington following a presentation by Alford, during which he said, “P4G never intended to build Plant Washington” and that, “P4G’s goal has always been to obtain the permits needed and then sell them to any interested party that could build the plant.”  Unfortunately, it took many more months before Washington EMC followed Cobb EMC’s lead.

I happened to attend the invitation-only announcement for Plant Washington at the end of January 2008. The event was attended by former Washington CEO Frank Askew, then CFO and now Washington EMC CEO Wendy Sellers, Washington County Industrial Development Authority Chair, and Sandersville Railroad stockholder Hugh Tarbutton, and other Tarbutton family members.  At that time, Alford was clear in stating that Plant Washington would be built, owned, and operated by P4G members to provide affordable power to co-op members.

“Senior Cobb EMC officers interviewed advised that Plant Washington is now dormant,” according to the audit.

There’s a lot of information to digest in the 150+ page audit, which was requested by the Cobb EMC Board members elected after Brown and his cronies were ousted from the electric co-op almost four years ago. Last week Cobb County Prosecutor Don Geary told Channel 2 News in Atlanta that additional criminal charges could result from the findings.

The audit concludes with this statement, “This report has clearly demonstrated that how the former CEO made business and accounting decisions from which he and his friends profited. There was no effective compliance and ethics program and no oversight on the part of the Board of either entity, Cobb Energy or Cobb EMC to stop the activities perpetuated by the former CEO.”

It is time for Washington EMC leaders to come clean with its members and the larger community about the waste of member resources that Plant Washington has been from the beginning. Members expect and deserve the truth. We must hold them, and all our county leaders, accountable for the boondoggle they signed us up for over 8.5 years ago.

Two boxes, 8.5 years

The Friday Photo
May 29,2015


We’re downsizing today. These two boxes are filled with documents spanning 8.5 years (and counting) of some of the most difficult, rewarding, and meaningful work I will ever do.

Um no, not really

This letter was submitted to newspapers sold in the Washington EMC area:

Um, no. Not really

There is a critical error of fact in a press release issued by Power 4 Georgians last week. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has NOT stated that Plant Washington is exempt from any of the proposed carbon, or greenhouse gas (GHG) rules proposed by the agency, for existing or new power plants. In fact, it has become even clearer that, if built, Plant Washington will be subject to carbon pollution standards.  The only question is how protective those standards will be.

Plant Washington’s developer Power4Georgians has requested yet another extension from Georgia’s Environmental Protection Agency for his dinosaur-fuel based project. Southern Environmental Law Center attorney John Suttles commented that, “If Power 4 Georgians commenced construction a year ago like they said, they wouldn’t need additional permit extensions.”

Power4Georgians is choosing to delay construction.

With no announced Power Purchase Agreements or billions in required financing announced, of course the project requires extensions. If the project was fully funded and coal stacks of moneycustomers were waiting for power, wouldn’t the plant already be under construction?

The arguments against Plant Washington continue to grow larger and stronger with time. More energy producers are switching to renewable fuel sources due to reduced costs. Ratepayers are demanding more power produced by sunshine and wind. Major financiers have abandoned coal projects. A similarly speculative project, the Longview Power Plant in Maidsville, West Virginia, began operations in December 2011 and filed for bankruptcy less than two years later.  Meanwhile, ratepayers for power plants like the Prairie State Energy Campus have seen their monthly bills go up by as much as 51 percent due to the soaring costs of coal plants.

We’ve never needed Plant Washington in the first place. If you don’t believe me, drive out 300px-Solar_panelsto the 10 megawatt solar farm in Davisboro and see where Cobb EMC in Marietta is buying clean, affordable electricity generated right here in our own community.

Katherine Cummings
FACE Executive Director
Washington EMC owner/member

Friday, January 24, 2014

Former Gov Mike Huckabee is waving Todd Akin’s flag now. Will Georgia’s doctor-politicians Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey, and Tom Price sing the chorus on women’s inability to control our libidos, therefore forcing us to rely on government subsidized birth control? Robin Abcarian ticks through the Republican Party’s continued failure to woo women voters.

New filings by Cobb EMC member against co-op and settlement payouts covered in the Marietta Daily Journal

Rep Greg Morris wants SNAP recipients to take drug tests since they get state funds. State legislators get state funds without peeing in a cup. Courts have ruled against similar laws. This is a sure way to make sure children are hungry .

Growlers to Go bill would boost growing state’s brewery industry. (Plus adding spirits to wine?) Sen Burt Jones has filed SB 303 that also fast tracks referendum voting for dry cities and counties. Maggie Lee at Macon Telegraph covers this plus Georgia Democratic Party Chair DuBose Porter’s response to Rep Sharon Cooper suggestion to pull the plug on rural hospitals.

Twiggs County budget decisions include choosing an audit firm and one commissioner’s failure to recuse himself. This decision was made by the same people who opened a new library last year and closed it two weeks later due to budget problems.

You’re only as good as the company you keep

“You’re only as good as the company you keep” is something all of us probably heard growing up. It holds true for adults just as much as impressionable teenagers.

If the company you keep says a lot about you, then Dean Alford’s choice of business partners raises serious questions. Yesterday Alford announced that Taylor Energy Fund LLC is joining Power4Georgians (P4G). Tim Taylor’s company is based in Colorado but the Secretary of State’s website there shows no record of the company. Taylor joins forces with Alford, a private business partner with Dwight Brown, who awaits trial on 35 indictments pertaining to his time at Cobb EMC and Cobb Energy.

What plant opponents have learned about Mr. Taylor’s business history is less than encouraging.

In 2007 five men working at the Cabin Creek power plant in Colorado were killed in a tragic fire. Tim Taylor was President of Colorado Service Company (part of Xcel Energy), the company which owns the facility where the men died. The Denver Post coverage includes this quote from Greg Baxter, a regional administrator of the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration, “This catastrophe could have been avoided if the companies had followed their critical safety procedures. There should never be such a disregard for the safety of employees.”

Mr. Taylor’s approach to company finances should also make Washington EMC  (WEMC) and other P4G co-op owner members take notice. In 2009, Xcel, under Taylor’s leadership,  made multiple requests to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for rate increases to pay for construction costs in advance (much like GA Power is doing for Plant Vogtle). One request to the PUC was for $180.2M and it came on the heels of recent rate increases customers were already paying according to the Denver Post.

EMC members should note that Taylor had to take his rate request to a government utility  commission for approval. EMC rates do not go before the Georgia Public Service Commission. The Board of Directors at OUR co-op, the one we own and belong to, but must request permission to attend monthly meetings or get information about operations, sets our rates.There is no one to appeal to but them.

WEMC owner-members need to ask our Board of Directors who they are choosing to “keep company with” before the first shovel of dirt is moved, or we are told to expect bigger power bills.

Dwight Brown wants to run the Cobb EMC faucet dry

Don McKee, who has closely followed the years long battle between Cobb EMC owner-members and management, notes in his column that for once the co-op is in agreement with the owner-members. Dwight Brown, the former CEO at Cobb EMC, has a complicated history with the co-op and the for-profit company, Cobb Energy, he helped create. Last week his attorneys were in court over contract payments Brown believes the co-op owes him (at the tune of  $13,800 per week). That Brown thinks the money faucet at Cobb EMC should continue to run for him is unbelievable.

That’s a hefty weekly check, but perhaps what makes it even worse is that former Cobb EMC Board Chair Larry Chadwick signed the contract without the board’s approval. There is a long and ugly history about closed-door operations at the co-op, much of which may be detailed when Brown is in court to defend himself on the 35 indictments against him (He hasn’t been in court for other proceedings, so noted Judge Schuster in his ruling concerning Brown’s pay last week).

Long story short, if co-op board meetings are open to the members, along with financial and meeting materials posted online and easily available to members, one would hope that such shenanigans would be much less likely to occur.

Some of my fellow EMC members in Middle Georgia have begun to pay attention to the closed-door, back room dealings that seem to control Washington EMC. Proponents of coal fired Plant Washington say they want to provide cheap electricity to members so we can keep the lights on. Instead it seems that Plant Washington has shined a bright light on the fact that the Board of Directors and Senior Staff prefer to keep the co-op owner members in the dark.

Flannery O’Connor could have written this

Today the team I play on stepped our game up to a higher level. We started together to stop Plant Washington, a coal plant supported locally by the Tarbuttons (Southerners know to how things happen in a “one family county.”). The more my friends and neighbors, along with our partners, learned about our respective electric co-op’s  governance and business relationships, the more tangled the story line became.

This story is set in a rural community blanketed with tall trees, a black water river, and, because it is the rural South, a swamp. Another chapter was published today, and this one has a picture that outlines the characters and the plot.

The plot picked up again this morning. Some of the characters left early on in the story. Others held on into the fourth year since the story outline was announced in Sandersville. One of the lead characters, Dwight Brown, awaits trial on 35 indictments which include racketeering, theft, making false statements, and witness intimidation. At least one forensic audit is in the near future which may reveal yet more intrigue.

The story isn’t over, but this much is certain: it hasn’t played out like the writers announced in late January 2008. Flannery O’Connor loved a good plot twist too.