By Michael Sandoval | Special to Colorado Watchdog
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Abound Solar CEO Craig Witsoe’s presentation of glowing testimony before the House Oversight Committee on May 16 has been challenged by new reports of panel failures uncovered by Watchdog’s Todd Shepherd.
Witsoe’s testimony accused Chinese manufacturers of “dumping” solar panels below cost, while noting that support for the industry from the Chinese government was an intrinsic reason why American companies like Abound Solar have swooned in the competitive solar panel market:
“At scale, we believe that Abound’s thin film solar modules can be built by American workers with good paying jobs, at lower cost per watt than competing crystalline-silicon solar modules made with low-cost labor in China. Technology start-up companies come with significant risks, and the recent aggressive price actions from Chinese companies have made the solar market very difficult for all module suppliers. But while China fights aggressively with low cost labor and enormous government backing to control the future of this industry, we believe that the U.S. can and should win by using our superior innovation and technology capabilities.”
According to Witsoe, in addition to $300 million in private capital, the company has drawn down only $70 million of its $400 million Department of Energy loan guarantee, and has not tapped those funds since August 2011.
In his spoken testimony, Witsoe ad-libbed from his prepared statement and concluded with a shot at Chinese competitors, and an acknowledgement that considerable risk remained in the developing renewable energy sector:
“Today China dominates the global solar module market using low cost labor, enormous government backing, and U.S. invented crystal silicone technology. But while this American invention has turned into Chinese industry, we believe that the U.S. can still win in the future by developing and scaling newer technologies like Cad-Tel (cadmium telluride). At scale our solar panels can be built by American workers with good-paying jobs at lower cost per watt than competing crystalline Chinese panels made with low cost labor in China.
“Today, technology startup companies come with significant risks, we know that. The recent aggressive price actions from Chinese companies do threaten to prevent innovative companies like Abound from achieving needed scale to win. Even with long-term superior technology this dynamic has made the solar market very difficult for Abound and the other module suppliers.
The technology advances we have made can be critical elements to the U.S. gaining a competitive position in the global market. As we work to launch our next generation of solar module with the use of private financing, we are determined to continue to advance U.S. technology to help turn American inventions into American industry.”
According to Witsoe, without the DOE loan, Abound’s attempts to bring its Cad-Tel modules to scale would not have been possible. Earlier this year, Abound laid off 70 percent of its workforce and now employs only 125 people, far from the pre-loan estimates of as many as 1200 jobs created.
Others testifying before the House Oversight Committee included Brian Fairbank, president and CEO of Nevada Geothermal Power Inc.; John Woolard, president and CEO of BrightSource Energy Inc.; Michael Ahearn, board chairman of First Solar Inc.; James Nelson, president and CEO of Solar 3D Inc.; and Gregory Kats, president of Capital-E.
Witsoe’s testimony as prepared for the House Oversight Committee hearing on May 16, 2012.