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Abound Solar email raises new questions about DOE loan

By   /   May 30, 2012  /   News  /   6 Comments

By Todd Shepherd | Colorado Watchdog

President Obama stands before solar panels.

Documents obtained by Colorado Watchdog show that Loveland-based Abound Solar removed an entire rooftop of solar panels from the investment headquarters of wealthy Democrat benefactor Pat Stryker,  likely because of inherent product defects.

Originally touted as a green energy success story by President Barack Obama and others, Abound Solar finds itself in the national spotlight after laying off almost 200 workers in February, despite a $400 million loan guarantee from the federal Department of Energy. Stryker’s political ties to the Obama administration drew sharp criticism in a recent Congressional Oversight report.

In a Nov. 8, 2010, email, an Abound Solar sales representative asks an engineer to go to Stryker’s Fort Collins-based Bohemian Investment Corp. headquarters to “take down the broken modules (I think 14 total) as well as 4 that we shipped them originally? Chris R. will be wanting the 4 unused ones for FA.” In engineering lingo, FA is frequently used to mean “failure analysis.”

The product failure on Bohemian’s rooftop came just one month before Abound would sign documents formalizing the federally backed loan guarantee from the Department of Energy.

The email raises questions about DOE risk-management on loan guarantees. The Congressional Oversight report highlighted the fact that Fitch Ratings company “described Abound as lagging in technology relative to its competitors, failing to achieve stated efficiency targets, and expecting that Abound Solar will suffer from increasing commoditization and pricing pressures.” Fitch estimated the chances of taxpayer recovery of the Abound loan at just 45 percent.

Bohemian is the investment arm of Stryker, well known in Colorado political circles as one member of the “Gang of Four” who, beginning in 2004, poured millions of their own money into a largely successful effort to turn Colorado’s politics from “red to blue.”

Emails and calls to Abound Solar’s Steve Abely were not returned.

In March, CompleteColorado.com published an email showing the company conducted a hasty and unannounced shutdown in December 2011. The email told employees, “Don’t let the rumor mill create false purposes for this shut down. Holiday shut downs in businesses are common and represent best of class employer actions. We are shutting down to better manage the inventory, cost and to help employees have time with their families. Any other story is a rumor and not helpful in our building open and effective communications.”

Though the company created the approximately 200 layoffs in February, Abound executives have maintained that production will resume sometime in the next few months after their factory line is “retooled” for their next generation of solar panels.