Clean energy: Another solar firm lays off workers

Clean energy woes continue as US solar-panel company retools in the face of Chinese competition, despite federal clean-energy subsidies. 

Business Wire/File
Tom Tiller, who became the new CEO of Abound Solar in early 2010, was replaced at the position and became its board chairman less than two years later. Two other executives left the struggling clean-energy firm last year.

A Colorado-based solar module maker said Tuesday that it was suspending work on its first-generation models and laying off about 180 workers as the company focuses on a more efficient product.

Abound Solar hopes to rehire the laid-off employees in six to nine months, after it retools equipment and manufacturing processes for the new module, Chief Financial Officer Steve Abely said. About 100 temporary workers also would be laid off, according to The Longmont Times-Call ( ).

The Loveland-based company had about 400 employees before the cuts. Permanent workers have received severance packages.

Abound Solar makes thin-film cadmium telluride solar modules. Its first-generation module performs at a 10.5 percent efficiency. The new module performs at a 12.5 percent efficiency, which would be more competitive with modules from Chinese manufacturers, Abely said.

U.S. solar industry players have been facing stiff competition from companies in China, where the government spent more than $30 billion in 2010 to subsidize its solar industry, according to U.S. energy officials.

Abound's new solar module should save customers money, company officials said.

"While this is a difficult move with regards to temporarily reducing our workforce, we know that accelerating the introduction of our next generation module will bring significant benefits to our customers and allow us to create even more jobs in the future," Chief Executive Officer Craig Witsoe said in a statement.

The company received a $400 million loan guarantee from the federal government as part of a stimulus package for clean energy in 2010 but has drawn less than $70 million, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

When it received the loan guarantee, Abound was projected to create 1,500 jobs in Colorado and Indiana, up from a total of about 360. Abound Solar said it still has long-term plans for a plant in Tipton, Ind.

"While the challenges facing solar manufacturers have been widely reported, we continue to believe that supporting innovative companies like this is important to ensuring our nation has the ability to compete for theclean energy jobs of tomorrow," energy department spokesman Damien LaVera said in a statement.

He said the department would keep working with Abound, as it does with all loan recipients, as the company makes changes toward manufacturing a new module.

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