Monday, November 30, 2015         

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Losses at Hoku accelerate as delays hurt plant

By Dave Segal


Honolulu-based Hoku Corp. said yesterday it has fallen further behind schedule and over budget on a polysilicon plant it is building in Pocatello, Idaho.

The alternative energy company also said its loss in the latest quarter was more than double its loss in the same period a year ago.

Hoku lost $3 million, or 6 cents a share, in its fiscal third quarter ended Dec. 31, compared with a loss of $1.3 million, or 6 cents a share, in the year-earlier period.

Revenue more than quadrupled to $1.2 million from $259,000 a year ago, primarily generated from its solar division, which installs and services photovoltaic systems in Hawaii.

The earnings were released after the market closed. Hoku's shares plunged about 11 percent to $2.30 in after-hours trading.

President and CEO Scott Paul said the revised budget for the company's 4,000-metric-ton polysilicon plant in Idaho is now $700 million compared with its previous estimate of $390 million to $410 million, and that it now expects to begin shipping polysilicon, the raw material used to make solar panels, in the second half of this calendar year.

Hoku said in May that it expected to begin producing polysilicon by the end of last September.

Hoku broke ground on the polysilicon plant in 2007.

The company said construction of the plant originally was expected to take approximately two years but has taken double that because of numerous starts and stops related to earlier financial problems. It also said that beginning construction before detailed engineering was complete caused countless changes, which resulted in additional engineering and construction costs, and schedule delays.

Hoku said the financial impact of these delays and changes can now be determined with more clarity.

"Our budget and schedule estimates throughout the project have been based on the best estimates we have received from our vendors," Paul said. "These estimates were, in turn, based on a series of assumptions regarding design, equipment specifications and the timing of receipt of engineering drawings and equipment deliveries. In the end our assumptions have proven to be overly optimistic."

Paul said construction activity last quarter occurred at the fastest clip since the company broke ground. More than 500 construction workers were on-site every working day, he said, with the company spending nearly $20 million each month in construction costs.

Hoku went public in August 2005 as a developer of fuel cell technology but reinvented itself after that technology was slow to gain commercial acceptance. The company hoped to turn things around by banking on the global shortage in the polysilicon industry. However, new entrants in the market and added capacity by existing ones created an oversupply that has put downward pressure on prices, according to the Global Polysilicon Market Report.

Hoku said it plans to focus more on its solar division once the polysilicon facility is operative, but said that last quarter the company commissioned six rooftop PV systems in Hawaii.

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