SolarWorld Americas to be acquired by rival company
The SolarWorld saga is headed for a new phase, as rival SunPower Corp. announced last week it plans to purchase the Hillsboro-based solar panel manufacturing business.
SolarWorld Americas has undergone massive hiring expansions and contractions in the past year, laying off 500 of its 800 workers last summer before announcing in late fall it planned to hire 200 more.
In a statement, SunPower chief executive officer and board chairman Tom Werner remarked on the opportunity that acquiring SolarWorld will give SunPower.
"We are thrilled to announce this agreement to acquire SolarWorld Americas, one of the most respected manufacturers of high-quality solar panels for more than 40 years," Werner said. "The time is right for SunPower to invest in U.S. manufacturing, and SolarWorld Americas provides a great platform for us to implement our advanced P-Series solar panel manufacturing technology right here in our home market. P-Series technology was invented and perfected in Silicon Valley, and will now be built in SolarWorld Americas' factory, helping to reshape solar manufacturing in America."
The company lobbied for tariffs on foreign-made solar products, which it argued were hurting its ability to compete in the solar panel market, and got good news in January as the federal government announced it would impose a 30 percent tariff.
SunPower, however, was a a vocal opponent of SolarWorld's tariffs pitch, according to Reuters. While SolarWorld's American headquarters is based in Hillsboro, San Jose, Calif.-based SunPower imports most of its solar products from countries where the cost of labor is cheaper. SunPower's panels are manufactured in Asia and Mexico. By building some of its products in Hillsboro, the company is about to get around at least a portion of the tariffs SolarWorld played a hand in bringing about.
Opponents like SunPower have argued the tariffs would raise prices and undercut demand. SunPower's vice president, Tom Starrs leads the Solar Energy Industries Association, which tought the tariffs.
Opponents said mismanagement, not foreign influence, was the cause for SolarWorld's dilemma.
After its parent company filed for insolvency last year, SolarWorld struggled for months as it lobbied the Trump administration to impose steep tariffs on foreign-made solar panels, which it says was to blame for the companies woes.
SolarWorld officials have battled against Chinese competitors for years. In 2011, the company announced it was preparing a U.S. trade complaint, arguing that Chinese competitors were flooding the market with cheap solar panels, cutting into the company's market. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice filed criminal charges against five Chinese government officials after they allegedly hacked into SolarWorld's computers and stole emails and files from company executives. The emails contained information about the company's finances, production capabilities, cost structure and strategies, according to the company.
After its parent company filed for insolvency, SolarWorld said it needed harsher tariffs on foreign-made products in order to stay in business.
Jurgen Stein, SolarWorld's CEO, suggested in a statement that the acquisition by SunPower is good news for SolarWorld's Hillsboro factory and employees.
"We are delighted that SunPower has agreed to inject fresh capital and their industry leading P-Series technology into SolarWorld Americas operations here in Hillsboro," Stein said. "Our hundreds of long-time employees are excited to be part of this next chapter in SolarWorld Americas' long history. We are thrilled about this acquisition as it means quite simply, that our company can look forward to redoubled strength as it continues to innovate and expand into the future. This outcome is ideal for SolarWorld Americas and its employees."
The purchase price was not disclosed. It is unclear when the deal is expected to close.
The purchase would require regulatory approval in the U.S. and Germany, where SolarWorld's parent company, SolarWorld AG is headquartered.
Solar Power World reported that if completed, the acquisition will make SunPower the largest crystalline solar panel manufacturer in the United States.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, a proponent of "clean energy" technology, expressedqualified optimism over the business deal on Twitter.
"I had a brief conversation with a representative of (SolarWorld), and it sounds like the Hillsboro facility will remain open for the time being," Wyden Tweeted. "I'm cautiously hopeful this sale will be good news for Hillsboro and all of Washington County."
The news of SolarWorld's purchase came one day before a bi-partisan group of congressmen in Washington, D.C. filed a bill to stop the tariffs from going into effect.
Jared Huffman (D-CA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Mark Sanford (R-SC), Ralph Norman (R-SC) and Steve Knight (R-CA) hopes their bill, the Protecting American Solar Jobs Act, will repeal the duties and tariffs Trump imposed on imported solar panels.
"The saying in Washington is that if you want less of something, tax it," Sanford said. "A tariff is a tax, and I don't know what good can possibly come as a consequence of stifling the growth of solar power. Solar power is one of the cheapest and fastest-growing renewable energy sources, and if we are really focused on becoming energy independent, now is no time to slow its growth."