Tuesday, April 17, 2012

BREAKING: First Solar lays off 2,000, closes factory, idles production

Following bad news over the weekend, another solar firm announces major restructuring moves, including layoffs, today.

First Solar (FSLR) was kicked off the Nasdaq-100 Monday and replaced by Texas Instruments.  First Solar is based in Tempe, AZ, but was founded in Toledo under the name of Solar Cells, Inc.  Their only U.S. manufacturing facility is in Perrysburg Township.

In October, they fired their CEO.  In December, they announced 100 layoffs and a delay at their Mesa plant. 

Today, they announced further changes, including closing operations and laying off 2,000 - roughly 30% of their workforce:

As part of this program, First Solar will close its manufacturing operations in Frankfurt (Oder), Germany, in the fourth quarter of 2012. Additionally, the Company will indefinitely idle four production lines at its manufacturing center in Kulim, Malaysia, on May 1, 2012. These actions, combined with other personnel reductions in Europe and the U.S., will reduce First Solar's global workforce by approximately 2,000 positions, about 30 percent of the total.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Energy's Loan Programs Office offered nearly $4.5 billion in conditional loan guarantees to three of First Solar's projects. This is the same office that loaned tax dollars to the bankrupt Solyndra, the bankrupt Energy Conversion Devices Inc, and others as well as pledged funding to the bankrupt Solar Trust of America.  Earlier this month, First Solar received their first advance on one of the loans.

That loan was for the controversial Antelope Valley Solar Ranch One.  They projected that the Antelope Valley project would produce enough energy to power 54,000 homes, but as of the receipt of the loan, that number had jumped to 75,000 homes - though that seems a bit on the small side for "one of the largest such projects in the world."  And then there was this claim from the House Committee on Oversight and Reform:

For a specific example, the report claims that First Solar’s Antelope Valley project involved no true innovations and hence should not have been eligible for the treatment it received. The report claims that DOE employees deliberately bent the rules and modified their assessments to maintain First Solar’s eligibility, moves that eventually prompted Director of the Technical and Project Management Division, Dong Kim, to write in a June 2011 email:

Someone keeps changing [Antelope Valley Solar Ranch] Technical slides to include single axis trackers as an innovation. Be clear that this not an innovation. The record will show that we did not grade this as innovative during intake review. It will not stand up to scrutiny if compared with CVSR [California Valley Solar Ranch] trackers. Whoever continues to make this change needs to understand that Technical does not support the 20 percent of the CVSR field with trackers as an innovative component. [Emphasis added by report.]
It would be one thing—deplorable, to be sure—if the DOE’s loan guarantee program had insufficient procedural safeguards to protect taxpayer money. However, what the new report confirms is that on several occasions—and not just involving Solyndra—Administration officials allowed certain companies to receive government assistance only by bending or even ignoring the program’s own stated rules.

In March, the Washington Examiner revealed that First Solar used taxpayer grants and loans to sell its solar cells to itself
In September 2011, Ex-Im approved $455.7 million in loan guarantees to subsidize the sale of solar panels to two wind farms in Canada. That means if the wind farm ever defaults, the taxpayers pick up the tab, ensuring First Solar gets paid.

But the buyer, in this case, was First Solar.

A small corporation called St. Clair Solar owned the wind farm and was the Canadian company buying First Solar's panels. But St. Clair Solar was a wholly owned subsidiary of First Solar. So, basically, First Solar was shipping its own solar panels from Ohio to a solar farm it owned in Canada, and the U.S. taxpayers were subsidizing this "export."

First Solar closed yesterday at $20.82, its lowest price ever and a far cry from its high of $317.00 in May of 2008.  They have scheduled a conference call today at 11 a.m. to discuss this announcement. A replay of the conversation will be available at 1 p.m. (instructions here).

1 comment:

James said...

Is the sun starting to set on these solar companies? Couldn't resist the pun.

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