Summary:

After years of incubation and at least $91.4 million of private capital, silicon cell maker SpectraWatt was sold to Canadian Solar for about $4.95 million during an auction. The sale is a dismal end for the Intel-backed company.

Flagship

After years of incubation and at least $91.4 million of private capital from investors including Intel, all the capital equipment of silicon solar cell maker SpectraWatt has been sold to Canadian Solar for about $4.95 million. The sale still needs final approval from the bankruptcy court, which is scheduled to do so on Oct. 6. The auctioneer, Heritage Global Partners, also plans to auction off bankrupt solar panel maker Solyndra.

The sale is a dismal end for SpectraWatt, which was incubated inside Intel before being spun off in 2008 with $50 million in capital from Intel, Goldman Sachs’ Cogentrix Energy, PCG Clean Energy and Technology Fund, and Solon. Solon, a solar panel maker, had planned to buy solar cells from SpectraWatt.

SpectraWatt initially wanted to build a factory in Oregon and had planned to ship silicon solar cells to panel makers in mid-2009. The cell maker then decided to move to New York in 2009, citing the more generous incentive package offered by the state. The company’s CEO, Andrew Wilson, told me then it could set up manufacturing at a former chip factory in New York, which would’ve been much cheaper than its initial plan of building a factory from the ground up in Oregon.

The company made the move to New York and in spring 2010, announced it had raised $41.4 million in convertible debt from Intel, Cogentrix, PCG Clean Energy & Technology Fund, and two undisclosed investors. SpectraWatt had completed the factory and was ramping up production in order to start shipment in the second quarter of 2010.

Although the company promised to deliver efficient solar cells, it wasn’t able to compete in a market filled with much larger rivals who could supply silicon cells at cheaper prices. SpectraWatt apparently also ran into production problems. In December 2010, it was getting ready to lay off workers and shut down its factory. The company filed for Chapter 11 last month.

Two months before it disclosed its layoff plan, though, Wilson gave a rosy forecast of the company’s prospect, reported the local paper, the Poughkeepsie Journal. “Things are going gangbusters here. I don’t know that I could describe a better situation than the one we’re in now,” Wilson said at the time.

While that optimism now seemed misguided, it sounds similar to the statements from Solyndra’s CEO just before that company filed for bankruptcy, too: “We’re growing, doubling in size year-over-year, and on track.” Solyndra then laid-off 1,100 workers, shuttered the factory, which it had built a year earlier using a $535 million federal loan guarantee, and filed for bankruptcy. Solyndra’s auction is scheduled for Oct. 27.

Photo courtesy of Diana Parkhouse via Flickr.

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