Solar Power Advocate Likely Violated State Ethics Law

Sep 14, 2012

One of the Northwest’s leading solar power advocates likely used his state position to help a company he was working for get an unfair tax designation. That’s the conclusion of a state ethics board investigation released Friday.

In Northwest solar power circles, Mike Nelson is a bit of a celebrity. Now, the Washington Ethics Board has concluded that just before Nelson formally retired from Washington State University, two years ago, he took a job with a company called Silicon Energy. Then, according to a preliminary ethics finding, Nelson used his state position to help the company earn a coveted “made in Washington” designation for its solar inverter system. Last April, Nelson told me he’d recused himself from the process.

Austin Jenkins: “Did you play any role in the certification of this inverter as being made in Washington?”
Mike Nelson: “No.”
Austin Jenkins: “You completely recused yourself?”
Mike Nelson: “Ya.”

But the Ethics Board investigation found evidence to the contrary and could ultimately fine Nelson. He could not immediately be reached for comment. Silicon Energy later lost its “Made in Washington” certification when it was discovered that a key component was actually made in Italy.

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network