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Idaho solar factory built by isle firm produces nothing

By Associated Press


POCATELLO, Idaho »An estimated $400 million polysilicon plant in eastern Idaho now has only eight workers, all security guards, after its last engineer exited last month amid dwindling hopes the facility will ever produce materials for solar panels.

Hoku Scientific Inc., based in Hawaii, started building the plant in Pocatello about five years ago, as interest in solar energy grew and polysilicon prices rose. The company predicted it would provide hundreds of higher-paying jobs in the region. But polysilicon prices began to plummet, and Hoku laid off 100 employees in May 2012, just before production was to begin.

The Idaho State Journal newspaper reports the company's last engineer, Ken Gibbs, stopped working at the plant last month.

Gibbs says he and other employees had spent the last several months trying to figure out a joint consolidation plan to save the plant from financial ruin and get it online, but they were unsuccessful. He said prospective partners for the facility all balked, and Hoku might eventually be forced to relinquish it for pennies on the dollar.

"Why should a big company go into a joint venture when they can wait and buy it in bankruptcy?" Gibbs said.

In 2012, Honolulu-based Hoku announced it was delisting its stock from Nasdaq, saying it had been unable to maintain a minimum $1 bid price for its stock, a violation of the exchange's listing requirements.

That was after Chinese investors in 2011 had propped up the company, a move that lent hope the Pocatello facility would be completed.

That was short-lived, however, as tumbling polysilicon prices meant the new facility was incapable of producing material for solar panels without losing money in the process. The problem: Solar manufacturers worldwide are saddled with production glut, rock-bottom prices and U.S. allegations of predatory Chinese pricing, just as Italy and Germany slashed incentives that propped up their solar industries.

In Pocatello, Gibbs said, the problems with contractors and others escalated during his tenure.

"It was always, ‘When are we going to get paid?'" he said.

If the idle Pocatello plant is sold in a federal bankruptcy proceeding, Gibbs sees some hope it will eventually operate, though he concedes that it may have to be retrofitted to produce something else. Another possibility: Its gleaming new equipment could eventually be dismantled and sold in pieces, to help satisfy liens against the company filed by contractors that helped build it.

If that happens, Gibbs predicts, they'll get little of what they were originally promised.

"Hoku never made money," Gibbs said. "And you can't borrow money forever."

Company officials didn't respond to emails or phone calls from The Associated Press seeking comment.

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tiki886 wrote:
That's because there is no such thing as MAN-MADE global warming. AGW is a hoax. Just follow the money...who's getting rich? It's Al Gore!!!!
on June 11,2013 | 03:06AM
bender wrote:
Renewable energy has nothing to do with polysilicon prices and production. But just stick your head in the sand on the question of global warming. Pretty soon the sea levels will rise to where you have your head stuck in the sand and then you might come to realize that there is global warming and the activities of mankind are a contributing factor.
on June 11,2013 | 05:25AM
al_kiqaeda wrote:
...but just a contributing factor. Ice core sampling from the South Pole shows that wild swings in global temperature are the norm for Earth. This period of stable warm temperatures that allowed humans to develop is an anomaly in the history of Earth.
on June 11,2013 | 08:57AM
Mythman wrote:
An anomaly created by Algore so he could use messing with it to run for prezident in classic dem one hand washing the udder style
on June 11,2013 | 12:32PM
frontman wrote:
Thank you obama for wasting more taxpayer money.
on June 11,2013 | 11:23AM
Ronin006 wrote:
Why would anyone in their right mind invest in green energy or any other business which has to be heavily subsidizes by the government to stay in business? Like P.T. Barnum said, there is a sucker born every minute.
on June 11,2013 | 03:40AM
OldDiver wrote:
The government heavily subsidizes the oil industry with direct subsidies, tax loopholes and the oil depletion allowance. The government allows the oil industry to pollute the environment with cost. The government also invades other counties for the oil companies. I can't think of a more subsidized industry than the oil industry.
on June 11,2013 | 11:48AM
Mythman wrote:
There is a big difference, the oil industry actually is an industry. Advice, view any of the excellent youbtube histories of how the oil industry got started and it involved none of the types of govt baby sitting the so called green energy sheet requires out of the gate. Who writes your material, Old Diver, Gabby Hayes?
on June 11,2013 | 12:34PM
tiki886 wrote:
Can you identify specifically what those "subsidies" are?

It is a small fraction of what Obama's cronies have squandered through his stimulous program .

I have the numbers. Would you like to go first and show us you sources?

on June 11,2013 | 08:57PM
bobbob wrote:
guess people are just starting to figure out that solar is a huge scam and people are just farming credits.
on June 11,2013 | 12:47PM
typroctor wrote:
You got that right Ronin.
on June 11,2013 | 08:46PM
Mikehono wrote:
poor leadership by a young inexperienced CEO
on June 11,2013 | 04:32AM
awahana wrote:
Big dreams from a small town. Sopogy too.
on June 11,2013 | 05:17AM
al_kiqaeda wrote:
Bless them for having dreams and thinking big. I am not a Obama supporter, but if young Obama had told his fellow ice cream scoopers at Baskin and Robbins on King St. that he was going to be the POTUS I think they would have laughed. (I kind of wish there were right) I digress, millionaires all have -- or will have -- major disasters in their past. Most of them shrug it off as education like Edison and move on to bigger things.
on June 11,2013 | 09:08AM
bender wrote:
The reported plummeting polysilicon prices isn't being reflected in the cost of panels.
on June 11,2013 | 05:22AM
kainalu wrote:
I was about to question that aspect of it. Why aren't panels available at pennies on the dollars? Why hasn't the cost of installing solar technology on our roofs plummeted?
on June 11,2013 | 06:14AM
nitrobreath wrote:
Answer: Local government restrictions on homeowners DIY'ing their home PV systems here in Hawaii. You see, in Idaho and other states across the nation, the homeowner can buy panels for $400 a piece and install it themselves as a DIY, Home Depot style, "you can do it; we can help" sort of operation. But here in Hawaii, the local government forces citizens to pay $3,000 a piece to PV installers!!!
on June 11,2013 | 07:01AM
mitt_grund wrote:
Serious charge. Has there been no drop in the PV panel portion of the cost of installing a system? If they are still charging the same price for the panels, even though the wholesale price is significantly less, then shame on them, the state consumer protection office, the attorney general, our "knowledgeable" legislature, and our "omniscient", noisy governor.
on June 11,2013 | 07:14AM
jomama wrote:
a price perversion resulting from gov't subsidy for PV
on June 11,2013 | 07:41AM
Mythman wrote:
ouch, thanks nitro for the scoop....
on June 11,2013 | 12:36PM
Mythman wrote:
Why? Because the Israelis haven't invented and patented a way for it to be so, yet........
on June 11,2013 | 12:36PM
typroctor wrote:
That's not nice Mythman.
on June 11,2013 | 08:54PM
fishnfool wrote:
The "green" in green energy refers to the cash subsidies that governments (federal and state)lavish on projects like this. Very interesting that there is no mention in the article about how much taxpayer cash went into this disaster. You can bet there was plenty. The 'green' porkers involved in this stuff usually stick around just long enough for the government checks to clear their Swiss bank accounts then disappear.
on June 11,2013 | 05:32AM
nitrobreath wrote:
True. But remember: the only people making money in this economy are the Government and the corporations that lobby government for lucrative contracts and grants. Everyone else, like us poor schmoes are screwed, yes screwed. We are not able to position ourselves at the right time, in the right place, for the lucrative contracts to land in our small public hands. Crony capitalism is alive and well here. But it's capitalism on the way up (when contracts are handed out) and socialism on the way down (when the companies go bankrupt and the rest of us pay for the financial fallout and the bailouts).
on June 11,2013 | 07:06AM
palani wrote:
Rude awakening for Hoku, whose officials must have believed that Idaho would be a lot like Hawaii in endlessly using taxpayer money to heavily subsidize ill-conceived business ventures.
on June 11,2013 | 05:49AM
nitrobreath wrote:
Hoku probably did not pay enough money to the Government through lobbyists in order to keep their scheme afloat.
on June 11,2013 | 07:07AM
yhls wrote:
There were such high hopes for this company. You wonder how much was just smoke and mirrors and people getting duped to invest.
on June 11,2013 | 06:11AM
soundofreason wrote:
""Hoku never made money," Gibbs said. "And you can't borrow money forever.">>> Does somebody want to pass this little tidbit of financial advice to O'bama ?
on June 11,2013 | 06:46AM
nitrobreath wrote:
Obama is not in charge of this country. He is just the front man for the people who paid for his position in office. It's people like George Soros who are actually pulling the levers and making the decisions for the puppet.
on June 11,2013 | 07:08AM
soundofreason wrote:
I'm gonna have to give you that one.
on June 11,2013 | 07:14AM
cojef wrote:
YEp, Ole George, believes in open society, meaning anything goes, whatever you want, only trouble who is going tp pay for your whims
on June 11,2013 | 07:31AM
HD36 wrote:
China controls over 90% of the rare earth metals market. One of those is Indium tin oxide, used for its high electrical conductivity. By flooding the market now and eliminating competition they can corner the market and raise prices later.
on June 11,2013 | 07:20AM
McCully wrote:
What a total waste of money due to inexperience. The company should have got top people to run the company. Now this company is just a ton of scrap metal.
on June 11,2013 | 07:24AM
sailfish1 wrote:
Sounds like something Hawaii's City or State government would do.
on June 11,2013 | 07:37AM
HD36 wrote:
The Chinese control over 90% of the rare earth metals. Indium tin oxide is one of those metals used for its high electrical conductivity. With low labor and restricted exports of the metals they cornered the market forcing other manufacturers out of business. At a future date they'll raise the prices after the competition is gone and the price of oil goes up.
on June 11,2013 | 07:47AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
The company received boo-coo tax credits as a Hawaii start up. Act 221 gave investors massive tax write offs that were sold to mainland investors. The credits covered a 5 year period which has just expired. Coincidence? Ha ha. Just one more example of the scam that was Act 221 and why we need to have some real transparency and controls on the use of tax credits to specific industries.
on June 11,2013 | 08:06AM
KimoSabey wrote:
Tax payers paid for most of the loss. We not "the government" are the ones to loose. The facility could be run with even more subsidies but like manufacturing China will cut the margins and win. Administration spending of our money and printing money for projects like this is why we are in the hole for over $16 trillion. HOKU is now a real four letter word.
on June 11,2013 | 08:23AM
iwanaknow wrote:
Well...............................at least eight guards are getting a pay check (for how long and who's payin' them?)................I wonder if the Chinese will bid at the bankruptcy court and get the whole place for pennies on the dollar?
on June 11,2013 | 10:19AM
frontman wrote:
Thank you obama for wasting more taxpayer money.
on June 11,2013 | 11:23AM
AndrewWalden wrote:
Audit: State Gave Away $1B Act 221 Tax Credits Without Verification of Eligibility http://www.hawaiifreepress.com/ArticlesMain/tabid/56/ID/7295/Audit-State-Gave-Away-1B-Act-221-Tax-Credits-Without-Verification-of-Eligibility.aspx
on June 11,2013 | 11:42AM
skydog1 wrote:
Another example of a delusional Hawaii tech firm built up by local insider connections and run by idiots who have no idea how to run a company and zero understanding of the markets they are trying to be in. There is a reason no VC firm worth it's salt is based in Hawaii. Someone here mentioned Sopogy as well - same story.
on June 11,2013 | 05:47PM
niimi wrote:
Didn't their CEO pocket a whole bunch of big salary, conveniently left at the right time, and now is living large? What about all that debt leftover? Slick in my opinion.
on June 11,2013 | 09:30PM
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