Taxpayer-Funded Abound Solar Had Previous Shutdown; Lobbyist Promoted Failed Projects

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A Department of Energy-funded solar company that laid off 280 workers last week quietly imposed a mandatory, temporary cessation of its operations during the holidays, and warned employees to “not let the rumor mill create false purposes for this shut down.” And in another sign of potential financial troubles, a company document that is supposed to guide “the next great solar company” advises leadership to “stretch payables” to help attain its goals.

The forced time off was discovered in an internal memorandum obtained by The Complete Colorado, a news digest Web site, which also revealed the planning document. Employees of Abound Solar, which received a $400 million DOE loan as part of President Obama’s “green jobs” stimulus agenda, were told they would have to use their vacation pay benefits – except for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day – to receive compensation between Dec. 23 and January 2. Employees who did not want to use their vacation time could take the time off unpaid.

“We are shutting down to better manage the inventory, cost, and to help employees have time with their families,” the shutdown memo said. “Any other story is a rumor and not helpful in our building open and effective communications.”

And in another development, a K Street lobbyist hired late last year by Abound Solar had previously promoted as successes a number of failed “Green” initiatives in her role as Director of Energy for the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, which serves as the Hoosier State’s Department of Commerce. Cathy Tripodi of the lobbying firm Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting, which was paid $70,000 as Abound’s first hired outside lobbyist in the 4th quarter of 2011, previously worked for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Tripodi joined IEDC in April 2009 under Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels’s administration. In May of last year she gave a PowerPoint presentation she titled “It’s All About Jobs: How Your Energy Programs Can Drive Job Creation and Economic Growth,” at DOE’s State and Local Government Clean Energy Summit, which was a variation on a similar talk she’d given on other occasions. In the presentation she held up Indiana’s successes in attracting alternative energy businesses as an example for others to follow.

Unfortunately, as NLPC has reported previously, the efforts to bring successful “clean” technology projects have been a mixed bag at best. Tripodi claimed Indiana was “leading in electrification technologies” by citing bankrupt battery-maker Ener1 and Norwegian company Think City (Think Global) electric cars, which has run out of money several times. Ener1 received $118 million in federal stimulus funds and $7.1 million in state tax incentives, while Think was offered $3.1 million in performance-based incentives. In fact, Think was such a fiasco that Ener1 both provided it a bridge loan to keep it afloat (but not to manufacture anything), and also bought a 31 percent stake – just so it would have the Oslo-based company as a customer!

It was upon this shaky foundation that Gov. Daniels proclaimed he wanted Indiana to be “the electric vehicle state.” 

In her presentation Tripodi also featured Duke Energy’s Edwardsport, Ind. coal gasification plant, which is the first major power plant that uses carbon capture and storage, which she boasted was the “world’s cleanest coal-fired technology.” She did not mention the new facility by name on her PowerPoint, however, probably because it has been a political and economic nightmare. The project has been marred by massive cost overruns (by more than $1 billion), secret meetings, hidden information, ethics violations, firings of Duke officials and a state regulator, and pleas for taxpayer bailouts.

And amazingly, Tripodi even bragged about Abound Solar’s plans to build a facility in Tipton, Ind.

“Abound is projected to become the first ever billion dollar manufacturing company in just four years of operations and (will) employ 850 Hoosiers,” she crowed at the clean energy summit. 

Abound, which has drawn down $70 million of its $400 million DOE loan, has yet to develop its Tipton plans in earnest. The plant there still sits empty.

Now the company has hired the optimistically delusional Tripodi as its lobbyist, for the sole purpose of addressing its issues with the DOE loan guarantee program (according to its filed reports). And ABC News has reported that DOE granted the loan despite ratings firm Fitch’s characterization of Abound as “highly speculative.” Is the solar panel manufacturer – which has halted production (some say unnecessarily) in Colorado so as to allegedly upgrade equipment to produce more efficient solar panels – facing a holdup of its DOE loan similar to what electric automaker Fisker has experienced?

Back at home in Loveland, Colo., employees must endure a second forced shutdown within three months, as Abound executives “stretch payables.” The company has not started operations in Indiana as promised, and it received its DOE loan in the first place under suspicions of a mutual back-scratching agreement between President Obama and one of his wealthy political donors. And it has hired a lobbyist to spin fantastical stories about the prospects of solar to DOE and to members of Congress.

Do Abound executives really think they can stop production at the local rumor mill too?

Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for National Legal & Policy Center.