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Newsmonger: CNN's solar hit job, 'Gloves are off' in judge race

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Julián "The Real Deal" Castro was a subject of the stellar journalism (and fact-checking) of CNN.

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CNN's solar hit job

There was more confusion than worry when CNN producers began sniffing around San Antonio's historic 400 kilowatt power-purchase agreement between CPS Energy and South Korea-based OCI Solar Power three weeks ago. First heralded in January, CPS and OCI signed the deal this July, sealing the country's largest-ever solar project by a city-owned utility. Why the sudden interest, CNN?

Under the 25-year deal OCI will open a plant to manufacture solar panels and components, creating an estimated 800 permanent jobs with salaries of about $47,000 — a $100 million local investment scoring an annual payroll of about $40 million, CPS claims. By moving OCI's North American headquarters here from Atlanta, the city also hopes OCI can boost production beyond San Antonio's needs, selling solar to the North and South American markets.

But CNN wasn't interested in those details. In fact, it flat-out ignored them when it aired its 7-minute hit-job Friday night, headlined, "Rising Democratic star Mayor Julián Castro backs a deal that sends millions abroad." The crux of the story: Castro helped outsource San Antonio's solar dreams to South Korea, sending hundreds of millions of dollars overseas. CNN reporter Ted Rowlands went on to speculate CPS could have partnered with U.S. firms with more experience, and even hinted that Castro's October 2011 trips to South Korea and to a White House state dinner hosting the South Korean president were suspect.

"[CNN] seemed less interested in the terms of the agreement than in how the Mayor had been involved," said CPS spokeswoman Lisa Lewis, who was interviewed for the segment. "It's not the first time I've dealt with a reporter that had already made up their mind and just needed a quote to fill a hole."

CNN's Chicago bureau, where Rowlands is stationed, would not comment on the story by the Current's press deadline, but the story cites "multiple sources familiar with the bids" claiming OCI offered to sell solar to CPS for 11 cents per kilowatt-hour, while another consortium of U.S. companies offered a rate of 9.8-cents per kilowatt-hour. Yet, price per kilowatt-hour isn't everything, Lewis said, adding that other external costs impact the attractiveness of a bid, like the price of land for solar farms or the location of the manufacturing site. Lewis also said it's extremely unlikely anyone had access to pricing info for multiple companies that submitted bids — bids that were blind during the staff evaluation process. The details of each company's proposal are protected under confidentiality agreements, Lewis said. "This is the best company for San Antonio," she said. "The deal is right for the community. We're very pleased with the result."

CNN producers first contacted Castro spokesman Jaime Castillo three weeks ago. At first, Castillo got the impression CNN was interested in the nuts and bolts of the solar project. Then emails from CNN got more urgent and aggressive, he said. Castro couldn't be reached for comment.

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