Gov. Edwards to meet with LSU officials about energy contract

Gov. John Bel Edwards is scheduled to meet Friday morning with officials from LSU, including at least one member of the Board of Supervisors, to discuss the latest developments in the now yearlong saga over a lucrative, long-term energy services contract for the main Baton Rouge campus. 

Multiple sources familiar with the situation say a meeting with the governor is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. to discuss the growing controversy surrounding the contract, which is estimated to be worth more than $500 million. 

The board is scheduled to hold its regular monthly meeting later Friday morning but the energy services contract is not on the agenda. Its omission suggests there is still no resolution to the schism on the board over whether to award the contract to Louisiana Energy Partners, a firm with ties to powerful Democratic businessman Jim Bernhard, an Edwards ally; to a competing firm that is favored by LSU’s technical staff and consultants, Enwave Energy Solutions; or to throw out both proposals and rebid the deal.

Edwards’ communications director, Shauna Sanford, confirms the meeting is on the governor’s calendar but says Edwards, who may attend virtually or by phone, did not call the gathering and does not know what, specifically, the LSU officials want to talk about.

“They asked to meet with him,” she says. “He does not know what they want to discuss but he is expecting they will give him an update.”

LSU officials did not respond to a request seeking comment as to why they asked to meet with the governor.

The planned meeting with Edwards is the latest development in a deal that has become highly politicized and has pitted members of an already divided LSU board against one another. Three times in less than two months the board has decided not to take up the contract, as controversy rages over what to do.

In late December, shortly after LSU staff and consultants briefed board members in small group meetings on the results of their technical evaluation that determined Enwave had the better of the two proposals and would save LSU $60 million more than LEP over 30 years, LEP filed a challenge with the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors, seeking to disqualify Enwave’s bid because the firm doesn’t have a Louisiana contractor’s license. 

Enwave subsequently filed its own challenge with the licensing board against LEP.

So far, both complaints are under advisement by the licensing board staff and no opinion has been issued, according to an attorney for the agency.

Multiple sources familiar with the situation say political pressure on board members to award the deal to the Bernhard team has been immense, though some board members who favor the Bernhard team have reportedly said they feel pressure from LSU staff and consultants to award the deal to Enwave.

Earlier this month, there was an attempt to bring the competing firms together to split up the deal but that effort has since fallen apart.  

Whatever is going on behind the scenes, no pressure is coming from the governor, according to Sanford, who has said in previous conversations about the deal that Edwards has told board members to do what they feel is in the best interest of LSU.