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Contractor bids $8.3 million for bankrupt $700M Hoku plant

By Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 03:22 p.m. HST, Dec 18, 2013


POCATELLO, Idaho >> A contractor based in Washington state has again won an auction to purchase a failed polysilicon plant in eastern Idaho that was started by a Hawaii company.

JH Kelly was the highest bidder in Tuesday's auction, with a bid of $8.3 million for the Hoku Materials plant in Pocatello. The company was also the highest bidder when the plant was auctioned in October -- then with a bid of $5.2 million -- but a federal bankruptcy judge later said the auction had to be redone because it wasn't held in accordance with a court order.

Hoku Materials filed bankruptcy in July and the auction was intended to recoup some funds for numerous creditors who are seeking payment. JH Kelly is one of those creditors and is owed more than $25 million for work done at the defunct $700 million plant.

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. Chinese investors propped the company up in 2011.

But tumbling polysilicon prices meant the new facility was incapable of producing material for solar panels without losing money in the process. Hoku laid off 100 employees in May 2012, just before production was to begin.

"As for the facility's future, we will proceed in the manner we have voiced for the last six months," JH Kelly President Mason Evans told the Idaho State Journal in a prepared statement. "We are committed to working with the city of Pocatello and the Bannock County Economic Development Commission to alleviate some of the damage caused by the failure of Hoku/Tianwei."

The first auction was held online over two days in October. The first day, an auction was held to purchase the entire facility, and a piecemeal auction of more than 1,300 individual lots also began that day and stretched into the next. The top bid for the whole facility was $3.7 million and the totality of the piecemeal auction was $4.8 million.

But afterward, several bidders contacted the bankruptcy trustee, Gary Rainsdon, and asked to bid on the total property, offering bids higher than $4.8 million. Rainsdon allowed the overbid process, and JH Kelly came out on top. That's when Rainsdon asked the bankruptcy court to approve JH Kelly's bid. U.S. District Judge Jim Pappas turned down the motion, ordering the auction to be held again.

Pappas said Tuesday that he didn't order the auction repeated because of the amount of the bids. Rather, he wanted to ensure the auction was a fair process that didn't deviate from the plan everyone involved had been given.

"In this context, process is important," he said. "What came to me last time was inconsistent with the order from the court."






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