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Summary:

The similarities between Solyndra and SoloPower are getting closer and closer.

SoloPower's solar panel booth

It’s an easy comparison to make. Solar startup SoloPower is developing a solar material similar to the now defunct infamous Solyndra, and like Solyndra its also got federal and state incentives as well as venture capital funding. But now SoloPower is beginning to struggle like Solyndra, too, and according to the Oregonian has done layoffs, is restructuring, and even renegotiated its loan with the Department of Energy. SoloPower confirmed the layoffs.

SoloPower said in late September 2012 that it had started up its large factory in Portland, Oregon. SoloPower then-CEO Tim Harris told us at the time that he expected the company to produce 20 MW – maybe 30 MW — of solar panels per year by the end of 2012 and ship 2 to 5MW of solar panels during the fourth quarter. In SoloPower’s confirmation of the layoffs this week, the company says it “will begin commercial shipments to customers this month.”

But according to The Oregonian, SoloPower is looking to sell millions of equipment from its headquarters in San Jose, Calif., it’s seen the departure of high-level executives like the CEO, the President and the CTO in recent weeks, and the managing director of SoloPower’s lead investor Hudson Clean Energy Partners recently resigned. These are all worrisome signs for a startup that has raised over $200 million in funding. The factory originally was supposed to be 400 MW factory and cost $350 million.

SoloPower was awarded a $197 million federal loan guarantee to help it build out the factory. That loan is supposed to be able to be drawn down on when it has its first production line up at the factory. That’s the same program that funded Solyndra. SoloPower has drawn down on a state loan according to the Oregonian.

This article was updated at 11:48AM PST on March 5, 2013, to clarify the status of its loans.

  1. I’ve been wondering if the thing that is killing these solar tech companies is the government money itself. Perhaps getting the massive influx of free cash goes to theirheads and makes them sloppy.

  2. To be clear, there’s one very important difference between Solyndra and SoloPower: While the first S company drew down most of its DOE loan guarantee before its demise, the second S company has not drawn down a cent. I repeat, Solopower has taken NONE of the DOE loan, as it has yet to hit the milestones necessary for the loan monies to kick in. Not exactly apples to apples here, and not just for the reason stated here.

    1. Tobe Continue Tom Friday, March 1, 2013

      Easy there, resignations from the CEO, CTO, and lead investor manager while trying to secure state energy loans and manufacturing business energy tax credit amid equipment liquidation are not sure signs of success. Diminishing evidence this venture is a nestling mature enough to fly than a turkey given a shove for a short flight. Solar panels are not so green… they just don’t bear the discrimination suffered by alleged ‘dirty’ oil, coal and/or you’re favorite object of prejudice ‘earth juice’.

  3. Note they did not receive any of the $197 million as of yet

  4. TheWholeTruth Tuesday, March 5, 2013

    Yup, really, really sloppy reporting here. The similarities are there to be sure, but the big one – government money being “wasted” is NOT. SoloPower has not received a dime in government funds, and Ms. Fehrenbacher owes it to her readers to make this clear.

  5. Katie Fehrenbacher Tuesday, March 5, 2013

    Thanks for the comments here. Apologies for not making it clear the DOE loan guarantee was awarded and is supposed to be available to be drawn down if the company gets its first line up and running at the factory. I’ll clarify that in the story. @TheWholeTruth, I never claimed the DOE loan guarantee money was “wasted.” Not sure why you would put a word in quotes that I didn’t use.

    1. Whole Truth doesn’t give you the “whole truth”. What about the 20 million in Oregon tax credits that will give Solopower about 13.5 million in actual, but politically diguised, taxpayer cash. I guess this isn’t “government money, huh?

    2. Appreciate the correction.

      As to putting “wasted” in hooks, I did so because it was the clear insinuation in the original version of the story, Ms. Fehrenbacher. Even in the current version – in the headline, the summary, the lede, and the closing paragraph – you draw a connection between what happened at Solyndra and what’s happening here. This type of broad-brush reporting only perpetuates the notion that government incentives aimed at bringing manufacturing back to America are a bad idea, and it’s just not that simple. Administered with the correct oversight, incentives work. Solyndra was a boondoggle from the Bush administration’s vetting of it through the Obama admin’s boosting of it, less than a year before it crashed and burned.

      While the focus of your story could be the challenges with this particular technology and how the glut of cheap panels from China has commoditized a product that never should have been, it instead implies collusion between the government and companies that are trying to make things better. You admit yourself the Solyndra/Solopower comparison is “an easy [one] to make,” then suggest Solopower may follow in Solyndra’s “infamous” (your word, from your lede) footsteps – despite the fact that they’ve received no federal $ yet, and that Salem has acknowledged (in the Oregonian piece) that it is keeping Solopower on a short leash.

  6. well Katie was pretty clear in the last paragraph “That loan is supposed to be able to be drawn down on when it has its first production line up at the factory. That’s the same program that funded Solyndra. SoloPower has drawn down on a state loan according to the Oregonian” Supposed to be able means???? used! nope. Yet she states clearly SoloPower has drawn down on the state loan. Drawn down means??? Used! yes. The joke punch line will be when a solar farm is in the permitting process the environmental will find a bug, plant or animal to save costing taxpayers millions, and redistributing wealth to the lawyers

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