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Federal government says developer of Wyoming power plant misused stimulus funds

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CASPER, Wyoming — Federal officials have ordered the developer of a long-delayed power plant in northeast Wyoming to return $5.7 million in stimulus money, accusing the company of potential misuse of the funds, recently released government documents show.

The developer, North American Power Group, has returned $2 million to the government but it has withheld the remaining $3.7 million after receiving a subpoena from the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Inspector General, letters between the company and the Energy Department's National Energy Technology Laboratory show.

North American spokesman Charlie Russell confirmed the company has yet to pay the $3.7 million, but he declined further comment, citing the ongoing federal investigation, the Casper Star-Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/1v4RblI ).

The order represents the latest setback for the proposed Two Elk power plant near Wright in Campbell County.

North American first proposed the project in 1996, but little actual work at the site had been done.

In 2009 and 2010, the Energy Department awarded two stimulus grants totaling $10 million to North American for a related proposal to study carbon capture and sequestration at the Two Elk site.

But two years later, the department said that the company had used the money on unapproved costs, according to the letters.

The company "failed to make substantial progress toward meeting the objectives of (its) approved application," Martin Byrnes, a contract officer for the national lab, wrote in an April 2012 letter to Michael J. Ruffatto, North American president.

The government, Byrnes added, has "serious concerns about the potential misuse of funds by NAPG and material non-compliance with the terms and conditions of the award."

Brad Enzi, the son of Wyoming U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, is vice president of North American and the Two Elk project leader. Brad Enzi could not be reached for comment.

Sen. Enzi has said that his son never received any benefits from the senator's political position and that he had voted against the federal stimulus that ended up going to projects like Two Elk.

Max D'Onofrio, a spokesman for the senator, said the elder Enzi had learned of Two Elk's funding problems through media reports. The federal documents were obtained and first reported by WyoFile, an online journalism site.

The status of the federal investigation remains unclear.

The U.S. District Attorney's Office for Western Pennsylvania, which was assigned to investigate the case, did not return a request for comment from the Star-Tribune.


Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com

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