As a public agency that pays no taxes, the district was ineligible for the credits. So investment bankers would arrange for investors to pay for construction of the solar projects and claim a tax credit as the "owner" of the installations.
After six years, the district planned to buy the solar panels. At that point, Eisenberg told the trustees, campus energy bills would drop dramatically.
Wary of Eisenberg's assurances, an energy oversight committee of college presidents and others appointed by Chancellor Drummond sought an opinion from First Southwest of Texas, an independent financial advisor to the district.
First Southwest concluded that the promised energy savings were overly optimistic. Using more conservative assumptions on inflation and utility rates, it appeared the district might save nothing at all, First Southwest found.
"We have to get back to some reference point that is reality versus some speculative view," Ernest H. Moreno, leader of the committee and president of East Los Angeles College, told Eisenberg at a meeting in May 2009.
Despite such misgivings, Eisenberg persuaded the Board of Trustees weeks later to allow Chevron to start construction on nearly $44 million worth of solar panels at Pierce, Harbor, Southwest and East L.A. colleges.
These projects, unlike others Chevron had designed, would actually be built. The problem was how to pay for them: The hoped-for private financing was evaporating.
As the list of energy projects dwindled, the handful of investment banks Eisenberg had recruited were left with a fraction of what he had initially pitched as a $260-million deal.
In November 2009, US Bank, the only institution still willing to put up money, withdrew, citing "a lack of clarity" about what would be built.
Although the deal was dead, US Bank and Maryland-based Hannon Armstrong, the district's main financial advisor on the energy program, were owed payment for their services.
In an interview with The Times and in e-mails to the trustees, Eisenberg had said the district would be "on the hook" for only $300,000 to $400,000 to Hannon Armstrong.
In fact, records show, Eisenberg had signed an agreement that required the district to pay the investment firm $1.7 million if the energy projects fell through.
A similar agreement with US Bank, which Eisenberg did not mention in the interview or in e-mails to the trustees, obligated the district to pay the bank's expenses, which came to $1.1 million.
Months later, after The Times obtained documents showing that his e-mails and comments had been inaccurate, Eisenberg said he might have made "a misstatement" but had not intended to mislead anyone.
Far short of goal
Eisenberg eventually put together new financing deals to pay for the $44 million in solar projects Chevron was building. The federal tax credit and utility subsidies will cut installation costs by 26% — far from the 90% savings Eisenberg once promised.
Even so, the cost will be steep — $33 million for solar arrays that will provide less than 7% of the district's electricity needs and will produce minimal savings on its power bills.
All told, the college presidents have agreed to build no more than 16 megawatts of solar projects — well short of the 60 megawatts that Eisenberg says would be necessary to meet all the campuses' power needs. So far, the district has built just 6 megawatts.
But Eisenberg said he still believes the college system can achieve energy independence, even if progress toward that goal has been "much slower than I'd hoped for."
"Ultimately," he said, "I believe we'll get there."