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SolarWorld Shuttering Oregon Silicon Operations In US Restructuring Finale

SolarWorld is closing down silicon wafer production at its Hillsboro, Oregon facility and laying off 100 workers, said to be the second and final phase of an ongoing corporate restructuring and attributed to persistent and unfair Chinese competition.

The company filed a "Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification" (WARN) on July 2 with the Oregon Department of Community Colleges and Workforce Development, notifying of 100 layoffs to occur by August 31. This is listed as a "reduction" in staff and not a full plant closure, as happened earlier this year with Solopower in Portland. (Also this spring Sanyo Solar in Salem announced its own layoffs... not a good year so far for solar manufacturing in Oregon.) The company actually issued 120 layoff notifications, but 20 employees are expected to be reassigned, according to Ben Santarris, the company's head of corporate communications, who offered clarification from Intersolar North America happening in San Francisco this week. Local reports indicate that the Hillsboro site will now employ around 650 workers.

The moves are the second part of a restructuring that started in February, centering on the elimination of solar silicon crystal and wafer operations in the Hillsboro site; these will now be sourced through a combination of capabilities being ramped at its German parent company and to some extent from other suppliers on the open market, Santarris explained. The affected Hillsboro operation will be idled, but the production space and tools will not be decommissioned pending any possible future use, he added.

(In an unfortunate irony, the day after filing the WARN notice SolarWorld issued an Independence Day-themed press release applauding domestic solar manufacturing in the U.S. and highlighting SolarWorld's contributions to that end, including tens of millions of dollars in domestic procurements — and the 800 Americans that were employed in its Oregon and California facilities, framed by photos of smiling workers on a shop floor.)

This action not only concludes the company's restructuring operations in the U.S. (Oregon and California), but by August "virtually all the pieces of the holistic restructuring" broadly across the company will be finalized and will be completed through the winter, Santarris said. SolarWorld's parent company in Germany has been renegotiating with creditors and most recently linked up with a Qatar investor.

The reasons behind all the company's restructuring moves are plainly identified: unfair Chinese competition, Santarris said. That conflict also has claimed three other firms in the past week, as Europe and China continue to try and hammer out a trade resolution before EC-levied tariffs ramp up.

Lead image: Solar panels with raindrops, via Shutterstock

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