SoloPower, Portland’s Very Own Solyndra Style Success Story

Portland, Oregon likes to fancy itself as ahead of the curve, and more educated than your average city. We’re routinely listed as among the most wired cities in the nation, and typically have a more educated workforce than most. Our biggest mission, it seems, is to become the greenest city imaginable. But our government leaves a lot to be desired, with liberal pipe dreams dominating over such considerations as reality and common sense.

Case in point: SoloPower. Back in 2011, as we all watched Solyndra crash and burn despite massive propping up with federal tax dollars, SoloPower was just getting started with an expansion in Oregon. They originally targeted industrial land in Wilsonville, but were heavily courted by Portland to site their new manufacturing facility – on the taxpayer’s dime, of course:

SoloPower Inc., the California company that confirmed Friday it would put a factory in Portland instead of Wilsonville, gets a sweeter deal in the bigger city, courtesy of taxpayers.

In Wilsonville, SoloPower was planning on $40 million in a state loan and tax credit, plus a $2 million property tax abatement for the plant’s first phase.

In Portland, the thin-film solar-panel manufacturer stands to get the same loan and tax credit, plus an enterprise-zone tax abatement of up to $17.9 million.

Yet the added perks didn’t swing SoloPower as much as the speed and certainty of Portland’s package. In Wilsonville, opponents are circulating a petition to put the deal on a Sept. 20 ballot, potentially overturning City Council’s previous approval.

Despite company claims that they made “the lightest solar panel per watt” and that there would be a booming market for these units, the potential of the product was not universally accepted:

The Oregonian reported skepticism from Fatima Toor, an industry analyst with Lux Research. She said she thinks only 10 to 15 percent of rooftops can’t handle conventional solar panels, that SoloPower’s panels only convert 10 percent of sunlight into electricity – in other words, they’re 10 percent efficient – while a competing panel is 12.5 percent efficient. She also estimated that SoloPower will spend $1.30 to $1.60 per watt producing panels compared with traditional panels  that cost 65 to 70 cents per watt.

No matter – Portland is on the cutting edge of green everything! We had to have this plant! What a feather in the cap of then-Mayor Sam Adams:

Some news coverage of SoloPower’s official plant opening focused on heavy subsidies and similarities to Solyndra, a bankrupt solar company that also received a federal loan guarantee. But Adams noted multi-billion-dollar government subsidies to the fossil-fuel industry, and said SoloPower had attracted $219 million in private investment in addition to state and federal support.

Ah yes, BLAME BIG OIL! Fossil fuels couldn’t exist without federal subsidies, therefore the solar industry is just as viable!

Ahem … anyhoo … fast forward to today:

SoloPower confirms layoffs as company restructures, struggles mount

SoloPower, the solar panel maker struggling to launch its first production line in Portland, confirmed Wednesday night that it will cut its workforce as it attempts to restructure operations.

A spokesperson for the California-based company declined to discuss further details but said it would issue an announcement soon.

The layoffs are the latest signal of distress at SoloPower, where production delays have placed state and federal loan guarantees in peril.

So an alternative energy company gets massive taxpayer subsidies, sweetheart loans, tax abatements and every other creative public financing gift imaginable, totalling hundreds of millions of dollars. They promptly go out and miss their production goals, have to renegotiate the terms of their public financing, and are now laying off workers. Oh and they’ve just started liquidating “surplus equipment”. Executives are getting axed at breakneck speed, and investors are finding other things to do.

And suddenly, state officials are unavailable for comment.

If only we’d seen this coming.