AVALANCHE-JOURNAL EDITORIAL BOARD FINALLY WEIGHS IN ON HIGH PLAINS POWER GRAB

For months the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal editorial board was silent on the High Plains/Republic Power Partners attempt to issue 1.5 billion in municipal debt to buy two Odessa power plants worth only 520 million. The editorial board was silent when High Plains filed for court approval of the plan; it was silent when Odessa legislators passed legislation in Austin taking away the tax exempt status of the plan, and it was silent when the Cities of Lubbock and Odessa hired attorneys to oppose the plan. It was not until a judge ruled that the formation of the partnership was illegal that the editorial board wrote its first and only editorial expressing its opinion of the deal.

By expressing its support for the “outside the box” thinking of Republic Power Partners, the editorial board expressed admiration for the “leveraging of private investment to create a project the freestanding HPDEC would own and could finance through public debt.” What the editorial board failed to mention was that Republic Power Partners would have walked away with 75 million in profit without putting any equity into the actual purchase price of the power plants. To the editorial board, this is “business acumen,” but to the rest of us it was a private company attempting to use pubic funds to enrich private investors. The City of Lubbock’s brief put it correctly when it stated: “This proposed acquisition is part of a plan to use special powers and benefits reserved for governmental entities to conduct private business transactions and enrich private parties.”

The Avalanche-Journal called the plan “stretching the law too far.” Putting aside the dubious nature of the partnership attempting to use pubic money to enrich private investors, the most troubling aspect of the entire plan was that the former head of the Lubbock Economic Development Alliance brought Republic and WTMPA together to create High Plains. LEDA is a tax payer funded corporation owned by the City of Lubbock and its board members are appointed by the city council. After the head of LEDA put the deal together, he resigned from LEDA and joined the Republic board as an investor and partner with High Plains and stood to benefit financially if the deal had been approved. This is a clear conflict of interest. No elected or appointed city official should use his governmental position for private financial gain. As the only newspaper in Lubbock, the Avalanche-Journal has a duty to serve as the public watchdog to expose such an obvious conflict of interest by a public official. By choosing to ignore the ethical breach, the A-J gives tacit approval to others who wish to engage in similar conduct in the future.

As citizens of Lubbock, we must be on guard for the next “new idea” to provide for Lubbock’s power needs in 2019. We are a city of 220,000 citizens with a monopoly market in which electrical rates are not regulated by the state or federal government. Because of the enormous potential for profits, this situation makes Lubbock a unique and tempting market for others who want to “think outside the box”. This blog will do what the A-J refuses to do. It will fairly, accurately and timely report on all future plans to provide electricity to our city.