All posts tagged 'D&O'

Solyndra Takes the Fifth and Mascoma Prepares for an IPO: A Down-and-Up Day for Renewable Energy

September 26, 2011 19:50
by J. Wylie Donald
  It was a sobering moment Friday. Two executives of Solyndra LLC, after being honored by the President, receiving vast sums of money from investors, and earning kudos and accolades from industry and government,  asserted their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to testify before a congressional committee investigating the solar cell manufacturer's bankruptcy and potential improprieties in the procurement of loan guarantees.  We are not privy to the corporate planning but are comfortable stating that that was definitely not in the business plan. A more successful business model (for the moment anyway) appears to be that of cellulosic ethanol entrepreneur Mascoma Corporation, which on Friday filed its S-1 in anticipation of its IPO seeking $100 million in investment. As one blogger reported:  "the numbers continue to look strong, and the timelines continue to point toward commercial volumes of cellulosic ethanol in the 2013-14 time frame, at affordable prices."  We shall see.  Mascoma describes itself as follows:  "Using its proprietary consolidated bioprocessing, or CBP, technology platform, Mascoma has developed genetically-modified yeasts and other microorganisms to reduce costs and improve yields in the production of renewable fuels and chemicals."   While the holy grail is commercial success using any biomass resource, Mascoma is hedging its bets and touting application of its "bugs" to ethanol producers. It asserts that its "consolidated bioprocessing" is better than current processes and that it can help ethanol manufacturers produce more cheaply. This resort to established product lines is becoming a trend. An article in Scientific American, The False Promise of Biofuels by David Biello, reports that many in the biofuel area, where the lack of success in commercialization of biofuel applications has been discouraging, are seeking to use their proprietary technologies in other areas such as pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Internet commentators draw parallels between Mascoma and Solyndra based on the government support each received. Frankly, we find it not much of an insight. Government support is an enticement for investors.  If you have it, it will be easier to locate private financing. If you don't, it is just the opposite.  Still, federal and state involvement is eye-opening.    Mascoma's S-1 reveals that it has yet to turn a profit over the past five years and in fact has lost almost $140 million so far. It has been able to do this with a little over $100 million in private investment, $30 million in debt and $34.5 million in revenue. Eighty-six percent of Mascoma's revenue in 2010 came from government sources, which is substantial; government grants exceed $65 million.  The Department of Energy has provided separate grants of $20 million and $4.3 million, New York's Energy Research and Development Authority and Michigan's Strategic Fund have contributed $14.8 million and $20 million, respectively, in return for facilities in each state. A few million ($6.3 MM) has come from the BioEnergy Science Center at UT-Battelle. And somehow, for less than a million dollars, the Province of Alberta has a commitment for the construction of a facility in Alberta.  We hesitate now as we write our conclusion, for fear of jinxing Mascoma. We hope and trust that the its economic trajectory is 180 degrees from that followed by Solyndra. But just in case, we offer this small bit of advice: pay close attention now to the D&O policy. The next shoe to drop for Solyndra and its officers and directors will be lawsuits alleging various forms of misfeasance as individuals and entities that were financially burned seek to shift their loss.  We could write much regarding D&O policies. It will suffice here to counsel for focusing on pursuing coverage extensions for government investigations and for a requirement of "final adjudication" in any species of fraud exclusion.  The market is reportedly soft (except for Chinese reverse mergers) and there is no time like the present to establish the most favorable coverage terms.  Stated differently, when your executives are taking the Fifth and the litigation sharks are circling is no time to be parsing your coverage.

Renewable Energy | Solar Energy

Disclosure Pressure Ratchets Upward - Will D&O Policies Provide Cover?

February 16, 2010 02:42
by J. Wylie Donald
I concluded that I needed to pay more attention to climate change issues when I attended a seminar in 2005 and one of the speakers commented that inadequate climate change disclosures would not be covered under a D&O policy because of the pollution exclusion. Could it be so? The argument was deceptively simple. Carbon dioxide was a "pollutant." The inadequate disclosure "arose" out of the "release" of carbon dioxide. There is no coverage for same. Q.E.D. Thoughtful analysis, however, dispatches this canard. As we have written previously, carbon dioxide should not be classified as a pollutant. It does not irritate or contaminate: it is biologically benign except at impossibly high concentrations, and it is found in the atmosphere in billions of tons, a natural and essential constituent. And because it does not make the atmosphere impure, it is not a pollutant. But one does not even have to reach that conclusion. Any liability alleged against a director or officer for inadequate disclosure of risks from rising CO2 levels, arises from the inadequate disclosure not from the release of carbon dioxide. Cf. Owens Corning v. National Union Fire Insurance Co., No. 97-3367, 1998 WL 774109 (6th Cir. Oct. 13, 1998) (alleged inadequate disclosure of asbestos risk); Boliden Ltd. v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., Dkt. No. 05-CV-284493PD1, 2007 CanLII 11309 (Ont. Super. Ct. Apr. 3, 2007) (ore processing risks); Sealed Air v. Royal Indem. Co., 961 A.2d 1195, 404 N.J. Super. 363 (App. Div. 2008) (asbestos risk). But see National Union Fire Insurance Co. v. U.S. Liquids, Inc., 88 Fed. Appx. 725 (5th Cir. 2004) (per curiam) (pollution exclusion applies to allegations of improper disclosure of illegal toxic waste disposal). The requirements for disclosure are ratcheting upward. It started with activist shareholders requesting climate change disclosure at their companies' annual meetings. Next came the Carbon Disclosure Project, which over time has enlisted over 2000 companies in their annual reporting. See cdproject.net. In 2007, New York Attorney General Cuomo served subpoenas on certain publicly traded electric utilities and a coal company (based far from New York), seeking information on their climate change disclosures. New York has settled with three of the five companies, Xcel Energy, Dynegy and most recently with AES Corp. Dominion Resources and Peabody Energy remain in the dispute. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners weighed in with their disclosure requirements for insurance companies in 2009 (effective 2010). And now, with the publication of the SEC's recent interpretive guidance on climate change disclosures, it is only a matter of time before some investor's prescience is not rewarded and he or she or it concludes that the fault lies not in the stars, but in a corporate prospectus.   Should that come to pass, we anticipate the corporation will tender the claim to its D&O insurer for a defense. Undoubtedly the insurer will consider asserting the application of the policy's pollution exclusion. The ultimate result will depend on all the facts. One fact will be the extent and timing of disclosures. Another, however, could be that the policyholder had the pollution exclusion endorsed out its policy. That is a step the risk manager could be taking right now, regardless of what the corporate lawyers ultimately conclude about disclosure.

Carbon Dioxide | Climate Change | Insurance | Greenhouse Gases

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