Politics

Your “green energy” bankruptcy of the day: SoloPower of Oregon

Your "green energy" bankruptcy of the day: SoloPower of Oregon

Another solar panel company goes belly-up, as reported by the Oregonian:

SoloPower, the startup pitched as the most innovative player in Oregon solar manufacturing, will suspend its Portland operations in June and gut its remaining workforce.

It’s unclear whether production will ever start back up, or whether the state will recoup millions of dollars in incentives meant to fuel the company’s growth and create hundreds of well-paying jobs.

The development apparently came as a surprise Monday to the two state agencies charged with tracking its performance.

Solar industry analysts, though, have long anticipated its demise. They point to its rush to market — hurried along by eager government officials and private investors — with an expensive product that was only partly developed, and just as the solar market was tanking.

Way to go, state agencies charged with tracking the performance of SoloPower!  It’s wonderful that you’d be “surprised” by the failure of yet another green boondoggle with a ridiculous business model.

The SoloPower story includes all the usual fanciful promises of job creation, followed by the grim reality of a shuttered factory overseen by skeleton crews.  There were promises of 140 permanent jobs – which wouldn’t exactly have been a stunning return on the state’s investment of $30 million in loans and tax credits – but “in September, it employed about 60.  By February, a former employee figured, some 20 to 25 remained.”

How bad will Oregon taxpayers get soaked?  The authorities are still working to tally up the damages, and apparently having a bit of trouble getting in touch with the executives they once subsidized:

Messages left Monday at SoloPower and with a spokesman were not returned.

State officials, too, were working to get in touch with the company, which has received a $10 million loan and a $20 million tax credit. It also is in line for a $197 million federal loan, meant to help fund later stages of growth.

The Oregon Department of Energy, which signed off on the $10 million loan, was unaware of SoloPower’s plans to halt production, spokeswoman Diana Enright confirmed. The money was backstopped, in part, by the Portland Development Commission, whose representatives did not return calls seeking comment.

Well, at least they didn’t get the federal loan.  The Energy Department was probably too busy throwing money at Fisker Automotive.

Here’s what all those crackerjack state agencies and Energy Department oversees somehow failed to notice about the SoloPower business model:

Ed Cahill, an associate at Lux Research Inc. in Boston, never saw any customers. He recalls warning SoloPower managers that same month about their prospects. “Largely it had to do with the cost of their modules,” Cahill said.

In September, he recalled, SoloPower was asking $1.80 a watt — more than double the cost of conventional panels, which are priced according to watts produced at peak power generation. By comparison, he said, conventional panels ran about 70 cents a watt.

[...] In addition, Cahill and [market researcher Paula] Mints said, SoloPower’s efficiency — the amount of sunlight converted into electricity — was lower than that of both conventional and thin-film competitors.

Arizona-based First Solar, for example, a long established manufacturer of thin-film panels, had about 12 percent efficiency compared with perhaps 9 or 10 percent for SoloPower, Mints said.

Federal and state agencies plowed billions of dollars of our money into ludicrous schemes like this, creating an artificially large number of competitors scrambling to grab slivers of a tiny market already glutted with foreign products.  SoloPower CEO Rob Campbell is still hopeful that the Oregon facility can be brought back online, telling the ironically-named Sustainable Business Oregon, “What we’re doing is continuing to look for new investors to help support us while we ramp up this new facility.”  If he can do it with nothing but private money, and repay his government loans on time, that would be great.

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