Colorado Solar Panel Manufacturer Takes Taxpayer Money and Runs

A solar panel manufacturer based in Colorado that received hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds has gone bankrupt, leaving behind toxic waste that will cost millions of dollars more to clean up.

In 2010, Abound Solar received a $400 million loan as a part of a stimulus package for renewable energy.  The Obama administration approved the loan not because the manufacturer clearly had a viable business model in the face of growing competition within the United States and abroad, but because Abound Solar supported the renewable energy industry.

“The… company is Abound Solar Manufacturing, which will manufacture advanced solar panels at two new plants, creating more than 2,000 construction jobs and 1,500 permanent jobs,” Obama announced in 2010 at the time of the loan approval.  “A Colorado plant is already underway, and an Indiana plant will be built in what’s now an empty Chrysler factory.  When fully operational, these plants will produce millions of state-of-the-art solar panels each year.”

At its peak in 2010, Abound Solar employed only 400 individuals rather than the 1,500 jobs noted by President Obama.  By 2012, that number had dropped to 200 individuals just before the company declared bankruptcy.

Solar Panel Manufacturer Leaves Toxic Waste in Denver Facility

Now that the solar panel manufacturer has gone bankrupt, taxpayers are out approximately $70 million.  The almost 40,000 square foot manufacturing plant, which is located about 30 miles north of Denver, still sits empty because the facility is unusable in its present state.  Estimates indicate it will cost over $3.5 million to remove contaminated materials and otherwise repair the facility for use.

“As lawyers, regulators, bankruptcy officials, and the landlord spar over the case, the building lies in disrepair, too contaminated to lease,” the report stated.

Although the owner of the facility has petitioned the bankruptcy trustee to pay for the cleanup so that he can again lease the building to a new company, the bankruptcy trustee has taken no action to date.  The trustee has deemed the presence of toxic materials used in the manufacturing process for solar panels as too hazardous for cleanup crews.

In addition, thousands of solar panels that the bankruptcy trustee could have sold to help offset losses are missing.

“If a coal, oil, or gas company pulled something like that, the EPA would send out SWAT teams and the U.S. Marshals to track down the offenders, bankrupt or not,” noted a report from the National Legal and Policy Center, an organization that watches for corruption and unethical behavior within the government.

Abound Solar is the third solar panel manufacturer that received stimulus dollars to go bankruptcy.  To date, rather than jobs, it appears the only lasting thing the companies have created is toxic waste.

Proponents of solar energy conveniently omit the costs and energy consumption necessary to clean up the toxic waste created in the solar panel manufacturing process.  Companies must have those wastes shipped by truck or railroad car to centralized waste disposal facilities.  However, those costs are rarely advertised as they would undermine the advertised clean energy footprint of solar energy.

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by Mark Johnston

Mark has been a contributor to legal web sites related to bankruptcy, tax, and criminal law since 2011. He has an Accounting degree from Texas A&M University.