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State official in charge of energy tax credits resigns

Agency's handling of incentive program under scrutiny


SALEM — A top administrator at the Oregon Department of Energy resigned last week, amid scrutiny of the agency’s handling of tax incentives for renewable energy and efficiency projects.

Chief Financial Officer Anthony Buckley, who oversees tax incentive, energy grant and loan programs, will work at the agency through Friday, according to his Sept. 22 letter of resignation. The Department of Energy faces criticism by current and former lawmakers for allowing energy tax credits to be sold at deeper discounts than allowed under state price regulations. Lawmakers planned to take up the subject during hearings in Salem Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning.

The state offers the tax credits to government and private organizations to help offset the cost of efficiency and renewable energy projects. Recipients can use the credits to reduce their taxes, or sell them to raise capital. Lawmakers passed a law in 2009 that required the Department of Energy to adopt a formula to determine sales prices for tax credits. The goal was to ensure that owners of energy projects who opted to sell their tax credits received nearly the full face value.

However, Buckley told tax credit recipients and brokers in 2014 they could ignore the formula, according to public records and interviews. At the same time, other employees at the department told tax credit recipients they had to follow state price guidelines.

Buckley’s resignation letter did not provide a reason for his departure, but he heaped praise on the agency.

“I cannot say enough great things about ODOE, about all the people I’ve encountered in my years of service here, and especially about you and all the others on the management team,” Buckley wrote in a letter to agency director Michael Kaplan.

Two employees who work in the division Buckley oversees, loan manager Paul Zollner and business energy incentive program specialist Nakeia Daniels, also recently resigned. An assistant in the agency’s administrative division, Mandee Wilding, resigned around the same time.

Another employee in the energy incentives division who handled energy tax credit sales, Joe Colello, resigned in August. Colello was one of the employees who told brokers and tax credit recipients they had to follow state price regulations.

Zollner also did not provide a reason for his resignation, in a letter to Buckley.

“I appreciate the opportunities I have been given while at energy,” Zollner wrote in a Sept. 24 letter released by the agency.

State auditors who were investigating a complaint about the energy department’s handling of the tax credits this summer heard that employee morale was low and turnover was high, according to the auditors’ notes from interviews with two agency employees. According to the agency’s statistics, turnover was at 32 percent during the 2009-2011 biennium, 50 percent during the 2011-13 biennium and 37 percent in the 2013-15 biennium.

Agency spokeswoman Rachel Wray said that since the department is small, some employees leave in order to advance their careers.

“We’re proud that many of our employees have gotten the kind of professional experience at ODOE that makes them great candidates for jobs with more responsibility,” Wray wrote in an email on Monday. “As for program operations, we’ve been working to improve these programs and our oversight of them, and it’s our intention to make the programs strong and reliable enough to withstand dynamic situations like staff turnover.”

Hillary Borrud is a reporter with the Pamplin Media Group/EO Media Group Capital Bureau in Salem.