Taxpayer-subsidized SolarWorld laid off 40 workers at its Hillsboro, Oregon plant earlier this year, marking nearly 300 workers laid off company-wide after state officials invited the company to apply for up to $100 million in subsidies and the company accepted at least $27 million in subsidies.
Company’s Downhill Spiral
SolarWorld employed 1,000 workers at its Hillsboro factory soon after being lured to Oregon by the state and local subsidies. Now, however, the company employs just over 700 people at the plant. Analysts say the company may soon close its doors completely and file for bankruptcy. State and local taxpayers would have very limited opportunities to reclaim the subsidies if the company files for bankruptcy.
The German-owned company expanded its operations to the United States in 2008, attracted by the state and local subsidies in Oregon. The company opened a 480,000 square foot plant in Hillsboro, while also employing 300 people in Camarillo, California. Fewer than 100 SolarWorld employees remain employed in Camarillo.
Subsidies Failed Badly
John Charles, president and CEO of the Cascade Policy Institute, minced no words when asked about SolarWorld taking taxpayer subsidies but failing to live up to its promises.
“One hundred million dollars in incentives from the state and local government was just not right,” Charles said. “It’s a bad idea for government to try to pick winners and losers in a volatile and competitive market. That’s what private business should do, not government.”
Solar Industry’s Bleak Outlook
With solar energy projects dependent on government subsidies and mandates to compete against less expensive conventional energy sources, solar companies remain longshot investments. Adding to the U.S. solar industry’s bleak outlook, China is able to sell solar panels and equipment at far lower prices than U.S. companies. Companies such as Solyndra, Evergreen Solar, and Spectra Watt are just a few of the U.S. solar companies that have recently failed and fallen into bankruptcy.
SolarWorld continues to lose hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
Karen Dove (ka[email protected]) is a freelance writer in Bradenton, Florida.
[Editor’s note: This article has been updated from an earlier version reporting 50 layoffs at the Hillsboro plant, 114 employees in Camarillo, and $100 million in accepted subsidies.]