In July 2020, the BVI Electricity Corporation announced the winner of a $4.6 million contract to build a solar plant on Anegada: Power52 Clean Energy Access, a Maryland company headed and co-owned by American solar developer Rob Wallace Jr.
But when the contract was signed more than a year later, it did not go to that company, according to information disclosed by the utility in March of this year.
Instead, it went to another Maryland company with a nearly identical name: Power52 Clean Energy Access Anegada, which Mr. Wallace formed three days before finally signing the deal in November 2021.
Mr. Wallace has not explained why he formed the new company, and BVIEC officials have not said why they awarded the contract to a company that didn’t exist at the time of the bidding process. These questions took on new urgency in February when Mr. Wallace filed for personal bankruptcy in Maryland.
In his Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition, Mr. Wallace didn’t include either company in his list of assets, and the Beacon was unable to confirm their current owners.
But documents filed in the United States link the newer Power52 — the one that got the contract — to one of the creditors Mr. Wallace listed in his February bankruptcy petition: Henry Cortes, a New Jersey solar developer who in 2009 was sentenced to more than six years in prison for scheming to steal cocaine from a police evidence locker.
Taken together, the documents raise new questions about who’s in charge of the long-delayed project that is supposed to supply solar power to most of Anegada — and who will benefit from the more than $4.6 million that the BVIEC has agreed to pay for it.
Ever since the BVIEC announced the contract winner in July 2020, Mr. Wallace has been the main public face of the Anegada project.
In ceremonies and other appearances, he has enthusiastically touted the plan with the air of a preacher, quoting the Bible and promising to bring jobs for young people trained through a programme he organised at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College. Typically, he has been introduced as an owner and the CEO of Power52 Clean Energy Access.
Along the way, other project partners came and went.
Power52, for instance, initially said it had partnered with two other companies for the bid: the Dominican Republic-based RENSA and the Germany-based SMA Sunbelt Energy. But neither of those companies has been featured in public alongside Mr. Wallace, and RENSA told the Beacon in March that it is not involved — while Sunbelt didn’t respond to messages.
Other previous partners have also disassociated themselves from the project. Ray Lewis, a National Football League Hall-of-Famer who was originally introduced as a co-owner of Power52 Clean Energy Access, is no longer involved either, his representative told the Beacon.
Additionally, two instructors who helped lead the training programme at HLSCC previously told the Beacon they had to leave the territory after Mr. Wallace failed to pay them what he owed.
But another collaborator has quietly come on board.
At some point, Mr. Wallace partnered with Mr. Cortes, a former police cadet who founded the New Jersey solar company Core Development Group in 2012 after serving his sentence for his drug-related conviction.
Here in the VI, Mr. Cortes was not publicly linked to the Anegada project until Mr. Wallace briefly mentioned his company at the groundbreaking ceremony last December.
But corporate records suggest that he had been involved for more than a year by that time.
The tale of two Power52s
Those records, which were filed in Maryland and New Jersey, tell the story of the two Power52-branded companies with nearly identical names.
Documents about the older company — Power52 Clean Energy Access — show no link to Mr. Cortes. It was Mr. Wallace who formed the company, signing its articles of organisation on May 2, 2019 in Maryland.
Later that year, the company began bidding for the Anegada solar contract, and it was announced the winner in July 2020 after a controversial tender process that drew harsh criticism from three of the four losing bidders.
About 18 months later, on Nov. 2, 2021, Mr. Wallace formed the second Maryland company — Power52 Clean Energy Access Anegada — listing himself as president and CEO.
Then, on Nov. 5, 2021 — with the company only three days old — he finally signed the Anegada contract in front of a packed room at the R&R Malone Complex, where he and BVIEC officials blamed the delays on pandemic-related travel restrictions and promised that construction would soon get under way.
During the signing ceremony, BVIEC officials referred to the winning company repeatedly as “Power52 Clean Energy Access” (without “Anegada” on the end), and no one mentioned the full name of the newer company that Mr. Wallace had formed three days earlier.
In the months that followed, they continued using the name of the older company — even though the BVIEC now acknowledges that the newer company received the contract.
Cortes linked to Power52
The newer company is also linked to Mr. Cortes.
Though he did not appear at the signing ceremony, documents filed shortly afterwards suggest that he had assumed a role at the company before the year was out.
On Dec. 23, 2021, for instance, Mr. Cortes signed a resolution that changed the company’s office address and resident agent. The resolution, which was filed in Maryland, lists him as an “authorised person,” and doesn’t name Mr. Wallace.
Then, On Feb. 1, 2022, Mr. Cortes signed a certificate of registration in New Jersey — thus enabling the Maryland company to do business in that state.
The Beacon also obtained a Feb. 12, 2023, status report from the New Jersey Treasury Department that listed only Mr. Cortes under a section for the company’s principals, describing him as a “managing member.”
But a March 21 amendment to the company’s certificate of formation — filed in New Jersey while the Beacon was reporting this story — lists only Mr. Cortes’ wife Maribel Cortes as a “member.” Similarly, a new status report obtained from the New Jersey Treasury last week lists only Ms. Cortes’ name under the section for principals.
Cortes’ prison sentence
BVIEC officials have not said if they knew of Mr. Cortes’ connection to Power52 — or even if they knew that the contracted company was different from the one that bid.
But Messrs. Cortes and Wallace have worked together before. In 2017, they partnered on a proposal to build a $64 million solar plant in the city of Paterson, New Jersey. That pitch was very similar to the one Mr. Wallace would later bring to the Virgin Islands with Mr. Lewis, the NFL Hall-of-Famer.
In November 2017, Messrs. Wallace and Lewis described the proposal to the Paterson City Council, explaining that their Maryland-based Power52 Foundation would train community members to install 100 acres of solar panels throughout the city.
But less than two weeks later, the Paterson Press newspaper published a story recounting Mr. Cortes’ troubled history as a former police cadet.
Eight years earlier, the story reported, Mr. Cortes was convicted of taking part in a conspiracy to steal narcotics from a police evidence vault and provide them to drug dealers in the area.
According to prosecutors, another police officer would take the drugs and stash them on property owned by Mr. Cortes. An acquaintance would then sell the drugs and split the profits with Mr. Cortes and his co-conspirator, the prosecutors claimed.
In 2009, Mr. Cortes was sentenced to more than six years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine, though newspapers reported that the sentence was later reduced because of his cooperation with authorities.
Speaking to the Paterson Press in 2017, Mr. Cortes characterised the crime as a mistake that taught him valuable lessons.
“I never sold any drugs. I never sold any drugs in my life. I made the mistake of introducing people,” he reportedly said. “The mistake I made, it doesn’t define who I am.”
Some Paterson council members also defended him.
“His background has nothing to do with the good things this project will do for the city,” Councilman Michael Jackson, who arranged the Power52 presentation, reportedly told the Paterson Press. “His background is completely irrelevant.”
However, the proposed Paterson project never materialised, according to Joe Malinconico, a news reporter who covered the story at the time.
Wallace’s debts to Cortes
It is unclear if Messrs. Wallace and Cortes have worked together on other projects since then, but documents that Mr. Wallace filed in two recent bankruptcies show that he has racked up debts to Mr. Cortes over the years.
On Feb. 16, 2021, about eight months after Power52 won the Anegada contract, Mr. Wallace filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on behalf of a separate solar company he started in 2014.
He claimed at the time that the company, Pivotal Power Solutions Inc., owed nearly $1.8 million to 11 creditors, including $100,000 each to Mr. Cortes and Core Development Group.
Since then, Mr. Wallace has apparently failed to clear all his debts to Mr. Cortes’ company.
When he filed for personal Chapter 7 bankruptcy on Feb. 3 of this year, he claimed he owed nearly $9.4 million to more than 50 creditors, including $100,000 to Core Development Group.
Neither petition mentions Power52 Clean Energy Access or Power52 Clean Energy Access Anegada.
Even though Mr. Cortes was signing papers on behalf of Power52 Clean Energy Access Anegada by late 2021, he has not been publicly identified as a Power52 stakeholder.
In December, however, Mr. Wallace described Core Development Group as a collaborator on the Anegada project.
At the Dec. 29 groundbreaking ceremony, Mr. Wallace invited Virgin Islander Akim Brewley to give a few words. In his introduction, Mr. Wallace explained that Mr. Brewley — a graduate of the HLSCC training programme — would serve as project manager for the Anegada build.
“The project is being built by local people, the project is being managed by local people, the dollars from the project stay … in the community here,” Mr. Wallace said. “And this is how you empower a nation. You empower a nation by empowering the people.”
The new partner
Then Mr. Wallace delivered news that may have taken many attendees by surprise: Mr. Brewley, he said, “now works for Core Development Group, which is our [engineering, procurement and construction] partner for the construction of this project.”
The Beacon has found no previous mention of the company’s involvement in the project.
After taking the microphone, Mr. Brewley expressed confidence that the team would deliver on its promise of bringing solar power to the island.
“Working with Core Development and Power52, I’ve had an opportunity to shadow them on some other projects, and I can say that they are [an] incredibly talented and capable … bunch. I’ve never seen a group of people work so well together,” said Mr. Brewley, who did not respond to a request for comment from the Beacon.
No one at the ceremony provided further details about Power52’s partnership with Core Development Group, and no one named Mr. Cortes.
Nor did anyone mention Power52 Clean Energy Access Anegada: Throughout the ceremony, BVIEC officials and other speakers continued to refer to the winning bidder simply as “Power52 Clean Energy Access.”
But there is one place where the newer company was named several times: Core Development Group’s website. A Dec. 29 press release posted on the site recounted the groundbreaking ceremony in detail, and it noted that Core Development Group was providing construction management services for the Anegada solar project.
But instead of using the name of the original Power52 company, the release repeatedly referred to “Power52 Clean Energy Access Anegada,” and it described Mr. Wallace as the president and CEO.
The release even went so far as to incorrectly quote Leroy Abraham — who was still the BVIEC general manager at the time — saying he was “proud to partner with the Power52 Clean Energy Access Anegada team.”
Mr. Abraham, in fact, had named the original Power52 company — as he had done all along.
As the Beacon was reporting this story, the press release was removed from Core Development Group’s website without explanation. It has not been re-posted since.
Core Development Group
Though Mr. Cortes and other Core Development Group representatives did not respond to requests for comment, he has publicly praised his company’s record.
Today, the company states on its website that it provides solar services from coast to coast in the US and that it has developed utility-scale solar grids, battery storage projects, and electric vehicle charging stations, among other projects.
The company has also been recognised by various industry publications, including Energy Tech Review, which dubbed it a “Top Renewable Energy Services Company” of 2022.
Although public acknowledgments of Core Development Group’s involvement in the Anegada project are limited, Mr. Cortes has expressed confidence that the solar field will prove transformative for the VI.
“I firmly believe in the power of clean energy that will transform the world, and [the Anegada solar grid] makes a lot of sense in this unique island environment,” Mr. Cortes said in the deleted press release.
Since Power52 was announced the winner of the Anegada contract, BVIEC officials have not granted the Beacon’s requests for an interview about the project. They have also declined to provide the contract.
In a March 21 email, then-acting BVIEC General Manager Symorne Penn did acknowledge that the contract was awarded to Power52 Clean Energy Access Anegada — the newer company linked to Mr. Cortes — but she declined to be interviewed.
Mr. Abraham, who retired from the BVIEC two days after the Anegada groundbreaking ceremony last December, has not granted an interview about the project after more than two years of requests.
Dr. Neil Smith, who assumed the general manager role in April, declined to comment.
Rosemarie Flax, who was the BVIEC chairwoman from November 2019 to November 2022, also declined to comment.
Communications and Works Minister Kye Rymer referred this reporter to the BVIEC.