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Not again! A green energy company that got billions from feds is teetering

By   /   November 25, 2015  /   News  /   No Comments

Photo from Abengoa 2014 annual report

SPANISH FOR SOLYNDRA?: Renewable energy company Abengoa is fighting for its financial life. The company and its subsidiaries have received nearly $3 billion from the U.S. government.


Abengoa, a renewable energy company based in Spain that has received nearly $3 billion in loans and grants from the U.S. Department of Energy, is teetering on the edge of solvency.

“The future of the company seems very black,” Carlos Ortega, a trader at Beka Finance Sociedad de Valores SA, told BloombergBusiness. “It has a tremendous amount of debt which no bank wants to refinance and now even its partners are backing out.”

On Wednesday, Abengoa officials sent stockholders and financial investors into a low-grade panic when they announced the company is filing for preliminary creditor protection, a step that could lead to the largest bankruptcy case in Spain’s history.

The move came after a Spanish investment firm backed out a plan to inject around €350 million ($372.85 million) into Abengoa, which has been criticized for expanding too fast and accumulating too much debt.

News quickly spread to financial markets on both sides of the Atlantic, with Abengoa’s bonds due in March plunging to a record low of 12 cents on the euro. In early trading Wednesday, Abengoa’s stock price on the NASDAQ exchange crashed by more than 50 percent.

Late Wednesday, Spain’s stock market announced it was removing Abengoa from its blue-chip index.

Employing 24,000 people worldwide, Abengoa sells renewable energy and its engineering and construction divisions have been busy on environmental and renewable energy projects in the U.S.

Abengoa has been a favorite of the Obama administration, with the Department of Energy showering the company and its subsidiaries with $2.9 billion in grants and loan guarantees to undertake solar projects in California and Arizona, as well as the construction of a cellulosic ethanol plant in Kansas.

Abengoa received a $1.2 billion loan guarantee from the U.S. government to develop the Mojave Solar Project in California, which went online last year.

In December 2010, the Department of Energy awarded Abengoa a $1.45 billion loan guarantee to finance the Solana solar plant in Arizona. The plant started commercial operations in October 2013.

Watchdog.org sent an email Wednesday morning to the Department of Energy to check the status of those loans and get comment on what a potential Abengoa bankruptcy would mean.  

Update 1:53 pm. Eastern: A Department of Energy spokesperson said the Mojave and Solana loans are “being repaid” but could not offer more specifics on Wednesday. The agency’s Loan Programs Office supports a portfolio of about $30 billion of more than 30 projects with losses of approximately 2 percent of the overall portfolio, according to DOE. “Thanks to our rigorous due diligence, strong underwriting, and effective loan monitoring, the Department’s overall loan portfolio is performing well,” the spokesperson said.

“It’s the taxpayers who are on the hook in these kinds of deals,” said William Yeatman, senior fellow specializing in environmental policy and energy markets at Competitive Enterprise Institute and a vocal critic of the government’s loan program to benefit green businesses.

“It’s wholly predictable,” Yeatman said. “The precariousness of any industry whose business plan is completely based on favorable politics; that’s not a sound market plan.”

A $134.2 million loan guarantee from DOE was issued to Abengoa in 2011 for an ethanol plant in Hugoton, Kansas. Earlier this year, an executive at the plant told Watchdog.org the loan has been completely repaid.

The Kansas biofuel plant, which converts plant waste to ethanol, received a $97 million grant from DOE in 2007 during the administration of George W. Bush.

Abengoa’s financial health has been in question for months, with the company’s stock plummeting from $29.32 in September 2014 to less than $5 a share this fall:

Chart from CNBC

Abengoa SA stock performance

On Aug. 3, the brokerage firm BNP Paribas downgraded Abengoa’s rating from neutral to “Underperform” after the company’s shares dropped 31.76 percent in three months.

The investment management website microaxis.com recently listed Abengoa’s probability for bankruptcy at 75 percent.

RELATED: SunEdison: A cloudy picture for another renewable energy company 

The tenuous position for Abengoa has spurred questions about other green energy companies that received millions in federal dollars, only to go belly up.

Bloggers at the financial website zerohedge.com have called Abengoa a potential “Solyndra 2.0.”

A California-based company that made solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, Solyndra has been the poster child of failed renewable efforts. It received $535 million in a loan guarantee and, in 2010, President Obama toured its Fremont, California facility, saying, “companies like Solyndra are leading the way toward a brighter and more prosperous future.”

The next year, Solyndra filed for Chapter 11. After its bankruptcy, the government said it expected to get $27 million of the $535 million back but never did. 

As for Abengoa, its future looks murky and its financial problems also extend to a number of large banks in Spain who are among Abengoa’s lenders.

That may explain why Spain’s labor minister weighed in Wednesday, saying the Spanish government has offered Abengoa help as a way to send a message of “tranquility, of dialogue and negotiation.”


Rob formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.