Failed Oregon Solar Equipment Plant Leaves Behind Millions in Taxpayer Losses

From The Heartland Institute

November 26, 2018

By Bonner R. Cohen

A multi-year effort by federal, state, and local agencies to prop up an Oregon solar-panel manufacturer has ended in a shuttered factory, millions of taxpayer dollars down the drain, and a heavily polluted manufacturing site.

solar-panel-manufacturing-rightsize

A multi-year effort by federal, state, and local agencies to prop up an Oregon solar-panel manufacturer has ended in a shuttered factory, millions of taxpayer dollars down the drain, and a heavily polluted manufacturing site.

In 2010 SoloPower Systems (SoloPower) claimed it could manufacture “flexible” solar PV cells and modules that were light and thin enough to be installed on buildings that couldn’t support regular solar panels. Promising to employ hundreds of people at its 225,000-square-foot manufacturing plant, SoloPower attracted millions of dollars in loans and tax credits from government agencies.

Governments Provide Funding

In 2010 the U.S. Department of Energy loaned SoloPower $10 million. Business Oregon, a state agency, granted SoloPower $20 million in tax credits. The City of Portland agreed to cover half of SoloPower’s debt to the state, provided the solar-panel factory was located within the city’s limits, while Multnomah County, where Portland is located, declared the company’s factory site was in an enterprise zone, freeing the company from paying property taxes as long as it met certain job creation requirements.

By August 2011, the Obama administration increased is commitment to the project, furnishing $197 million in DOE loan guarantees to the company, and the California Energy Commission loaned the company nearly $5 million.

Company Falters

SoloPower’s prospects yielded relatively quickly to marketplace realities with the company’s largely untested technologies proving unreliable and more expensive than those offered by its competitors.

In April 2013, the company shut down its factory and laid off most of its workforce. By July 2013 it stopped making payments on its state loans and shortly thereafter, California sued the company for failing to make payments on its loan.

Subsequently, the U.S. Energy Department withdrew its $197 million in loan guarantees, and in the fall of 2017, the Trump Energy Department declared SoloPower in default of its original $10 million loan.

Also in 2017, Multnomah County sued the company for $1.8 million in back property taxes the county says the company owes for failing to meet the job commitments necessary to qualify for the property tax breaks it received, and SoloPower ceased making to the state of Oregon, saddling Portland with repaying the company’s entire $5 million loan guarantee from the state.

Toxic Waste Site

In an audit of the company Oregon’s Secretary of State pointed out although “Multnomah County had the legal right to seize the borrower’s equipment for delinquent taxes,” it was unlikely to do so because the plant was heavily polluted with cadmium and hydrochloric acid.

Seizing the equipment may not be an option given the level of pollution at the plant.

This stuff is very caustic,” Michael Vaughn, Multnomah County accessor told Oregon Live. “And there’s lots of it. It’s one big mess.”

Cleaning up the plant is estimated to cost more than $500,000.

Read the rest of the story here.

HT/Marcus

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59 thoughts on “Failed Oregon Solar Equipment Plant Leaves Behind Millions in Taxpayer Losses

  1. The solar and wind renewable energy stories are not proving to be very good for these industries.
    America has to focus towards cleaning up the tried and true fossil energy sources of energy. Coal can be combusted putting into the atmosphere less CO2 than a natural gas power plant. Lets invest in that and at ways to improving our delivery of the produced electricity at the power plants.

  2. Due diligence is AWOL in these green industries. The government agencies not only have no clue what competitive players look like, they wear blinders while handing out the taxpayer money. Market based capital would not touch those proposals with a ten foot pole.

    • In the venture capital world, government run funds are known as dumb money. Responsible governments would pass a law requiring at least 60% of the investment come from private sources in order to qualify for funding.

    • That means there are vast sums to be gained in qui tam litigation which offers TRIPLE damages. Of course you still need an entity to sue that has assets. But there are also criminal charges to pursue for making false statements on applications etc for gov dough, even loan guarantees.

  3. Expensive and unreliable. And toxic too!
    No wonder the government was throwing money at them.
    They hit the solar Trifecta !!!

    • No one ever gets charged. Did anyone ever get charged from the banking fraud that almost brought down the world’s economies in 2008?

      When the fox owns the henhouse it’s pretty much guaranteed what will happen.

  4. Using Google Earth for a view of the site makes me curious about the claim that the land is a toxic mess. It is either building or parking space. There is no open ground, but there is some landscaping along adjacent roads. Peel the roof back and let’s have a look inside.
    I saw there is to be an auction of equipment in 3 weeks. What might that be? What use is it? Desks, shelving, tables, chairs — not a lot of value compared to millions gone.
    The writer suggests suing the city, county, state, & fed officials that greenlighted this showcase. Make them resign and make them all poor.

    • Why should people who make bad recommendations and hopelessly inaccurate future forecasts of outcomes be held accountable for their incompetence and risk-taking with other people’s money?

      I speak of course about climate modelers. Oh yeah, and solar panel production funders who scale up before proof of concept is provided.

      What’s the lesson? Don’t jump into things at scale before the solution is well proven. I’ve done enough of that to learn hard lessons. But I was wasting my own time and money.

      This is a spectacular failure on several fronts, starting with the funding poured into a device that didn’t work well. The toxicity of the site is surely an inspection failure. Who cheated?

      Three down, one to go. Shame. There is a market for solar panels under the right circumstances.

    • When Ascent Solar left their facility in Longmont, several hundred barrels of toxic stuff was in the building. On the upside, it was in the building and not in the parking lot feeding the birds and other wild life.

    • makes me curious about the claim that the land is a toxic mess.

      Yeah, when I saw stated that the cleanup would cost $500K, I thought, as previously an engineer that that amount was practically peanuts.

  5. And does anyone still wonder why the Juliana v. United States plaintiffs (the kiddie climate change lawsuit) forum shopped and filed their lawsuit in Oregon’s Federal District Courts?

    When it comes to things clad in green propaganda, they are not an especially bright lot.

      • Well, in Oregon City they do have “The End of the Oregon Trail”, where hundreds of thousands made their way across the Plains and through the Rockies and settled in the area. Many thousands died along the way. Don’t understand how that rugged breed devolved into what’s there now. Gotta admit, though, Crater Lake National Park is one of our favorites.

          • True. And in PDX, NYC.

            They just don’t get that they’re ruining OR just as they did the hellholes from which they’re fleein.

            Oregon’s reported population has quadrupled since 1940, mostly from immigration, but for the baby boom of 1946-65. By contrast, the US has grown by less than 150%. And we have at least as many illegals per capita as the country at large.

      • Just to be somewhat informative, Oregon and Washington are not single states, regardless of their boundaries. Each of them is divided along the Cascade mountain range, and you really want to be on the east side. Unfortunately, most residents are on the west side of both states, and regularly do stupid things.

  6. So! The main by product is CaCO3 ..Calcium carbonate. A useful product indeed, scrubbed I suspect out of the exhaust flue gas by Calcium Hydroxide solution generated by cooking the Calcium Carbonate to make CaO (Calcium Oxide aka Quick Lime, the main ingredient of Portland Cement) + CO2…… which is where we started! That 2nd Law or its chemical equivalent is such a spoil sport..
    Mike Macray

    • Portland, Oregon, not Portland Cement.

      But Portland’s main product is indeed now Green-Progressive Lunacy. A malignant human cancer if there ever was.

      You should stream Portlandia (the TV series). The people of Portland were always very uncomfortable with that TV show, both because it made fun of them and because it was cringeworthy true.

      • A comic but true take on ‘Pottyland’. Please be warned that Anglo-Saxon is spoken herein to describe the ever deeper ordure:

        https://youtu.be/aSw79yRnDVs

        No mention of the execrable public school system, once renowned for quality. Now boasts one of the lowest graduation rates in the known universe.

  7. There look to be some problems with the reporting. Why is cadmium listed as the pollutant? CIGS flexible solar devices use Copper-Indium-Gallium-Selenium. $500,000 is also not that large of a remediation bill to decontaminate a wet process area & associated reel to reel electroplating equipment, and even that amount may be exaggerated. To even get permitted for the chemistry used in their process, they would have had to have secondary containment & an impermeable floor. Again, something is not right with the reporting. The real dirty part of the process would be the selenium, but even that should be manageable for remediation.

    • RE: “To even get permitted for the chemistry used in their process, they would have had to have secondary containment & an impermeable floor. ” You are correct. Good point!

      Something is not right in the reporting.

    • Having worked in semi for years around the wet etch process I can guarantee you one thing, things are most definitely contaminated and more so than most realize. 500k is not even going to pay the bill for all the PPE needed for this project. No matter how much secondary containment you have, no matter how much care you take, no matter how much cleanup you do after a job there is still chemical to be found everywhere. There are spills, leaks, drips, explosions, contaminated wipes left laying around, people who are not careful, people who don’t even bother trying to clean up, people who make a half hearted attempt at cleanup, etc.. Go in a fab around something an acid etch bench, wet a random spot and drop some litmus paper in it and you’ll like have it come up red (pH 0) or dark blue (pH 13). Cleanup generally consists of using some dry wipes to clean up the liquid then wiped down with some wet wipes. Neutralizer generally isn’t used and a wet wipe (or dry with some water squirted on it) certainly doesn’t do the job. And this is with companies that care, go to a fab where they don’t care and you’ll see a sight that will give you nightmares if you know anything about the chemicals.

      The only way people truly protect themselves (and they do) is act like 100% of the area is contaminated even when brand new.

  8. Uh, how do you pollute a site with hydrochloric acid? It’s just HCl. Dump some crushed limestone on it while wearing a breathing mask and be done with it. This stuff is used all the time – like in swimming pools – to sterilize water.

    I think the cadmium may be dissolved by HCl, which would indeed be pollution, so Cadnium chloride? Needs to be stabilized before it gets into ground water, so they need to start cleaning NOW and not dodging the issue.

  9. The defunct SoloPower Systems is an economic tombstone, marking yet another self-polluted grave of the Obama regime and Oregon socialist gullible stupidity. What a criminally profound waste of human, property, and investment capital…..

  10. So Hydrochloric acid is very caustic.
    Who knew?
    And there was me thinking that Hydrochloric acid was, err, acidic?

  11. This is what happens when politicians try to pick a winner. Oh well, there is lots more other people’s money to have another go…

    • No actually, the Obama mantra was “we don’t pick winners” as they intentionally ignored the industry leaders to favor the high-cost or on this case technically-unproven political picks.

  12. And the greenbeans around here were complaining about a working nuclear plant, and got it shut down because RADIATION!!!!!

    It’s a shame that people like the previous administration are such suckers for unproven junk that they will sink gigatonnes of other people’s money into that junk. And when it fails and the creators of it leave, the mess left behind is worse than anything a decommissioned reactor could ever possibly have created.

    I hope more of this nonsense is shown to be as expensive and nasty as this particular mess, and also costly to clean up. The more this kind of thing is exposed to the light of day, the better.

  13. I think there is a market now for fake solar arrays to provide green creds for businesses at affordable cost with dummy solar panels or maybe the old, early-adopter, low efficiency panels from decommissioned German projects. Maybe some ex-VW execs could pull that off with best-in-class cheating skills.

    • I hope that the Chief Chimp Chokers have rather bigger (legal) problems to be concerned about.
      Like they ‘approved’ using a Cheat Device . . .
      And the German legal system will catch up with them.
      Will – not may.

      Auto

  14. When I read the first part of the article to my wife:

    “a shuttered factory, millions of taxpayer dollars down the drain, and a heavily polluted manufacturing site”

    She said -” It’s a renewable hat trick”

  15. I guess it is pointless to ask if all the electricity and other forms of energy dumped into this money-pit came from “clean, sustainable, renewables”

  16. I would think that an aspiring POTUS candidate could take all the failed solar and wind alternate energy nation-wide and make a case for why it is not viable. In addition educate the public on the false claims being made about how CO2 is the bad guy. More than enough time has passed to be able to show an extensive amount of failures and government waste supporting said projects.

  17. SoloPower made copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) thin-film flexible photovoltaic solar panels. No cadmium in their product.

    So the claim that there is cadmium pollution inside the plant is bogus.

  18. $500,000 to clean a toxic waste site? Methinks there are zeroes missing from the end of this number. It will either sit there as a monument to toxic waste, or the taxpayers will get hosed. Well, the hosed taxpayers part is inevitable, no matter the outcome.

  19. Thank heavens for https://wattsupwiththat.com ! Now ordinary people who actually think for themselves, or those who have been taught WHAT TO THINK can start undoing their brain-washing.
    When you see every strongly motivated efforts to stop all discussion about AGW and the fraud around CO2, you just know that free thinking and an open web will undo the best efforts of the Marxist green movement. You see Greenpeace acting as the international funds gathering organization on the basis of saving the whales ( the oil industry already saved the whales when they invented oil drilling and refining, stopping whales from being butchered for lighting oil. ), or saving some or other insect or worm, and of course saving the plant! Their employees enjoy the best travel and perks. As Greenpeace is treated as a charitable organization in many countries, they pay no taxes. All that money gets funneled into supporting international “save the planet” jaunts, and supporting their activists who slither into true environmental groups, slowly turning the environmentalists into Marxist activist cells which move into politics, starting at local government levels, and then into mainstream politics. The true environmental parties no longer have independent control, they have been eaten up from the inside.
    Left-wing groups, socialists, openly Marxist proponents and their colleagues in mainstream media, give plenty of biased reporting whilst denigrating anyone who dares to question or raise points not liked by the AGW brigade.
    Real scientists, wary of being tagged as “deniers” ( typical Marxist branding of non-group thinkers) and denied funding for research grants, have to bite their tongues and keep a low profile. This is nothing short of intimidation, tactics used by thugs and Stasi like bureaucrats, all being paid and funded by taxpayers. The system structure could not be more vicious!
    Politicians, not being interested in getting to the bottom of scams, gayly hand out taxpayers money so they can say ” I’m doing my part to save the world “, and are easily scared by the pseudo-scientists, and are not willing to challenge or debate the “groupthink” lest they get pilloried by the mainstream media!
    So when we can all read and discuss issues properly on sites like wattsupwiththat, there is always hope that this scam will get undone in due course.

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