Once seen as future of solar industry, SoloPower closing Portland plant

Once seen as future of solar industry, SoloPower closing Portland plant
TJ Haile was unemployed for about a year before being hired at the new solar plant SoloPower in North Portland. The company said in a public filing this week they will shut down their Portland plant in June and layoff workers.

PORTLAND, Ore. – A company that was touted as “the next wave of Oregon’s solar manufacturing industry” plans to shut down its North Portland plant and cut jobs.

SoloPower was supposed to bring more than 450 good paying jobs to Portland. Instead the company will end up cutting the few jobs it had created here, according to a mandatory public notice of pending layoffs.

“As a result of a significant downturn in business and the need for a major reorganization, SoloPower is planning to suspend its operations on June 17,” wrote Julian Biggs, SoloPower’s chief legal officer, in a letter to the state.

The company will cut 29 Portland jobs, including engineers, administrative workers, operations workers and one executive. The letter says cuts in Portland are expected to be permanent.

The news is especially troubling to many people because about 70 percent of the funding to bring SoloPower to Portland came from public sources. The California-based company manufactures thin, flexible solar panels that were meant to be used on commercial buildings.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the plant in September, then-Mayor Sam Adams downplayed the risk of the public investment. The company did put up their equipment as collateral if they can’t repay loans.

It’s not yet clear if SoloPower will miss any loan payments. We have calls in with company executives for comment but have not yet heard back.

In total, SoloPower was set to receive nearly $200 million in loans from the U.S. Department of Energy and about $40 in state and local money and tax breaks.

A spokesman from Business Oregon, the state agency that helped lure SoloPower to Oregon, said the agency would not comment until they could get more information from the company.

The agency had allowed SoloPower to use the “Business Energy Tax Credit,” which gave them tax credits in exchange for making renewable energy products. That tax credit was based partially on meeting job goals.

According to Business Oregon, SoloPower sold those credits to another company in December for somewhere around $13 million in cash.

The Oregon Department of Energy also gave SoloPower a loan.

SoloPower may be suffering from a industry-wide dip. They opened the Portland plant just after a huge drop in the solar panel market, and sales across the board have not recovered since.