A federal bankruptcy judge in Kansas this week granted a motion to keep Abengoa Bioenergy Co. LLC from transferring money out of its Kansas and Nebraska operations.
Abengoa, a global wind, solar and biofuel energy giant based in Spain, last month filed in that country for legal protection from its creditors — a step short of bankruptcy. The company owns shuttered ethanol plants in Colwich, as well as York and Ravenna, Neb., and three other U.S. locations. It has a biomass plant in Hugoton, which also closed down.
Last week, three large grain companies in Nebraska filed a petition to push Abengoa Bioenergy, a subsidiary of Abengoa, into involuntary bankruptcy. The three – Gavilon Grain, Farmers Cooperative and Central Valley Ag Cooperative – contend that they are owed $3.1 million for grain they sold to Abengoa’s Nebraska plants.
Abengoa of Nebraska is owned by Abengoa of Kansas, which in turn is owned by Abengoa Bioenergy, based in the St. Louis area. A bankruptcy filing was also filed in Nebraska, said Wichita attorney Ed Nazar, who represents the plaintiffs.
On Wednesday, the bankruptcy judge signed off on an agreement between the two sides that Abengoa would not remove any assets or money before the case is settled, dismissed or converted to a different kind of filing.
In the Feb. 11 filing seeking the order, the plaintiffs said they met with Abengoa of Nebraska officials in December and were told that the parent company in Spain had access to their funds, which had contributed to a shortfall in paying the Nebraska creditors.
The creditors are worried that the Abengoa parent company will move some of Abengoa Bioenergy’s financial assets out of the reach of the bankruptcy court, leaving them with less money to recover in the event of a sale or foreclosure.
An attorney representing Abengoa said Friday that the company had no comment.
The company already has borrowed heavily, using its plants as collateral. Abengoa took out a $33 million mortgage on the York plant in April, secured by a deed to the plant, according to a filing by the creditors.
According to records at the Sedgwick County Register of Deeds, Abengoa took out a $15 million mortgage from NXT Capital of Chicago on the Colwich plant in December 2014, a mortgage secured by the plant assets.
Also in December 2014, Abengoa arranged for $15 million in financing from Mazuma Capital of South Jordan, Utah, to lease equipment to restart the plant.
The company restarted operations in September 2014, after closing the plant about three years earlier. It closed it down again in November, throwing about 45 people out of work.