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Bredesen: Nothing Improper About New Solar Venture

Gov. Phil Bredesen sees nothing wrong with investing in a solar energy start-up business spearheaded by two high-ranking officials in his administration.

“Much ado about nothing,” Bredesen said of press interest in his business relationships with Matt Kisber, head of the Department of Economic and Community Development, and former Revenue Commissioner Reagan Farr.

Curiosity of late in the business dealings between Bredesen, Kisber and Farr is likely driven more by the recent initiation of a probe into the state Revenue Department’s handling of tax disputes under former Commissioner Farr than anything related to the new company itself, said Bredesen.

“You come to an end of a term and there’s a transition. There’s people moving out and during that time you have to go talk to somebody who might be your future employer and make those things. I think we all have to walk carefully through that,” the governor said after a building dedication ceremony on the Belmont University campus in Nashville.

Bredesen, who has been aggressive in recruiting clean-energy industries to the state with favorable tax treatment and other incentives, is investing in Silicon Ranch Corp., a solar power company launched by Kisber and Farr.

The Tennessean reported this week that Bredesen “has invested an amount ‘in the very low six figures'” in the company, which was incorporated in Delaware on Aug. 5.  Farr is listed as the company’s vice president, secretary and sole employee, Kisber the president.

The start-up venture is aimed at becoming “a new model for deploying solar across the U.S,” Farr told The Tennessean.

“Bredesen said his money was meant to help Farr test the feasibility of his idea, which would draw on his knowledge of the solar industry and tax law,” according to The Tennessean article. “Bredesen said he had personally reserved the company’s domain name while registering other websites but had not been keeping tabs on the company’s progress.”

Farr, who stepped down from his job as the state’s chief tax collector on Sept. 1, reserved the company name with the Tennessee Department of State’s business services division on July 22.

Since Farr resigned from his government job, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the FBI have launched investigations into tax collection decisions made by that department under his leadership.

“The whole thing has gotten kind of messy right now,” said Bredesen. “Were it not for the fact that the TBI came in and was looking at some things, I think it would have passed unnoticed.”

“I certainly have not done anything wrong or unethical,” he continued.

Bredesen added that the Tennessee Comptroller is investigating Farr as well, but a spokesman for that office would neither confirm nor deny that Farr’s work in the Department of Revenue or his business activities are under formal examination.