News and analysis about renewable energy in California.

Troubled Orange County Solar Firm Closes Factory, Cites 'Intense Competition'

Amonix's concentrating PV "Megamodule" | Photo courtesy Amonix

Seal Beach-based solar manufacturer Amonix announced today that it will be closing the 200,000-square-foot Las Vegas factory it opened in May 2011. The company began selling off the plant's physical assets in online auctions on Wednesday, according to Hubble Smith at the Las Vegas Review Journal.

The Orange County company, which has weathered both layoffs and the death of its CEO in recent months, manufactured concentrating photovoltaic solar power generating equipment used by utilities. 700 workers ran the factory at its peak.

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In a brief statement released today, Amonix said:

Based on intense competition, the challenging solar energy equipment pricing environment and lower than anticipated demand for CPV (concentrated photovoltaic) solar energy in Nevada and other states in the U.S. southwest, Amonix has made the difficult decision to restructure the company and shut down its manufacturing center in North Las Vegas, NV.

Amonix laid off 76 employees at its Seal Beach headquarters in June, including the firm's counsel, HR director, and controller. A previous 200 employees were let go in January, mere weeks after Amonix CEO Brian Robertson was killed while flying a private plane during the holiday season. The fate of Amonix's R&D facility in Torrance is uncertain for the moment, though the departure of high-level executives from the firm's Orange County headquarters does not bode well.

Amonix's technology was promising, using Fresnel lenses to focus concentrated sunlight on small photovoltaic cells. Though Republican pundits have seized on Amonix's troubles to criticize the Obama administration's industrial policy with regard to renewables development, Amonix says that no federal money went into the plant in North Las Vegas. The firm qualified for $6 million in tax credits for opening the factory, but it never made enough income to claim those credits.

The firm as a whole has received nearly $15 million in grants from the Department of Energy, which were awarded in 2007 under the Bush administration to study manufacturing efficiency.

Amonix's implosion is the latest example of an global industry-wide shakeout, with dozens of companies closing up shop not only in the U.S. but also within the heavily subsidized Chinese sector as well.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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