Suniva Bags $94M After Ditching Fed Loan Guarantee Plan


Solar cell developer Suniva, which recently decided to suspend its plan to secure a federal loan guarantee for a new factory, has raised about $94.4 million in equity from an effort to secure $115 million, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The new round is large for the Georgia-based manufacturer, which announced a Series C round of $75 million in July 2009. Overall, the company raised $130 million before embarking on this most recent fundraising deal. A Suniva spokesman declined to comment on the new round on Thursday because it hasn’t closed.

The SEC filing on Wednesday listed New Enterprise Associates and Warburg Pincus, the two firms that also invested in previous rounds.

The company has enjoyed a high-profile partly for developing highly-efficient silicon solar cells, a technology that grew out of Founder and CTO Ajeet Rohatgi’s lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology. In February this year, the company said it began producing cells that can convert roughly 19 percent of the sunlight that hits them into electricity. The efficiency puts Suniva among a group of companies that can produce highly efficient silicon cells; SunPower (s SPWRA) is producing cells at about 22 percent.

Suniva also gained attention in 2009 when Michigan announced it would give Suniva $15 million worth of tax credits over five years for investing $250 million in a factory. The company reportedly wanted to build a 400 MW factory at the time and was angling for a $141 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy to help complete the factory plan.

But earlier this year, Suniva decided to stop going after the loan guarantee because it didn’t like the terms offered by the DOE. Suniva said it would raise money elsewhere to expand its factory capacity.

Solar companies have credited the loan guarantee program for helping them line up money to build factories and power plants. Earlier this week, the DOE announced a $1.2 billion loan guarantee to help NRG Energy (s nrg) build a 250 MW solar farm in California using SunPower’s solar panels.

A loan guarantee serves essentially as a promise by the government to make good on a loan if the company can’t, and typically enables better interest rates and lower costs than would otherwise be available to a company for project financing. Although the guarantees are meant to enable their recipients to secure loans from private banks, they often become the intermediate step for the federal government to issue loans from the Federal Financing Bank in the past two years.

In total, the DOE has chosen 21 clean energy projects for loan guarantees and offered conditional commitments for $21 billion in loan guarantees. The loan program office also has already issued term sheets for more projects than it actually has the budget to finance.

The program has attracted criticism for how it’s run and whether it’s making good investment decisions. Federal lawmakers are in the midst of a budget battle and are looking at eliminating this program, which prompted nearly three dozen clean power company CEOs to write a letter pleading politicians in both parties to keep the program going.

Suniva, which makes solar cells in the U.S. and reached 170 MW of production capacity last year, has said it still wants to locate its next factory in the country. Foregoing a government loan guarantee does open up options for Suniva to add manufacturing capacity overseas, however. The company exports about 90 percent of its cells to customers in Asia and Europe, and it told PV-Tech it has contracted a manufacturer in China to assemble its cells into solar panels.

Photo courtesy of Suniva

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