US Solar Manufacturing Woes: Helios Shutters Plant, 1SolTech Slapped with State Lawsuit

Just before the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) announced its encouraging plan to resolve the U.S.-China solar panel trade dispute, two of the few-remaining U.S. solar panel manufacturers released some disheartening news. Helios USA announced that it would halt its operations, and 1SolTech received a lawsuit and temporary restraining order from the Texas Attorney General.

Helios, a U.S.-based solar panel manufacturer, has closed its doors and filed for receivership. Its remaining 24 employees have reportedly been laid off. The Milwaukee-based mono-crystalline panel manufacturer opened in 2009 and began making panels at its 50-megawatt (MW) capacity factory in 2011. 

Helios received funding through both private equity and bank and government loans in 2009. However it failed to make an $116,951 payment on its $1.3-million Wisconsin Department of Commerce loan that was due on August 1st, and it still owes $380,000 on its $650,000 Milwaukee Economic Development Corporation loan, according to Milwaukee Business News. Milwaukee Attorney Michael Polsky has been appointed the receiver for Helios, and is tasked with controlling its assets and determining the best course of action for the business. 

A vocal member of the several companies involved in the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM) in the U.S.-China trade case, Helios supported the effort that led to 30 percent tariffs on Chinese-made solar panels. It blamed these illegal Chinese practices for its recent downsizing.

“We petitioned because we believe there was illegal activity,” said Steven Ostrenga, CEO of Helios Solar, after the tariffs were announced in 2012. In response to companies that opposed the tariffs, Ostrenga countered: “It’s either a legal activity or an illegal activity. Just because you’re winning at some point in the supply chain based on an illegal activity doesn’t mean it’s good for the industry.” 

In Texas, panel manufacturer 1SolTech received a temporary restraining order and lawsuit from Texas attorney general Greg Abbott for violating the Deceptive Trade Practices-Consumer Protection Act (DPTA). The legal documents can be found here and here.

1SolTech allegedly purchased $2 million worth of China-made solar panels in early 2013 and sold them as their own “Made in the USA” product, which is prominently marketed on their website. Furthering the controversy, 1SolTech has apparently used the panels in bids on federal stimulus projects that required U.S.-made products, according to the Attorney General’s Office. 

1SolTech vice president Ali Razavi told the Dallas Morning News that the company was manufacturing panels at its Farmers Branch facility, yet he could not address the attorney general office’s claims and blamed their action on a previous executive that has since left the company.

This story will be updated as we receive more information.

Read more solar energy news here.

Lead image: Locked gate via Shutterstock

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Former editor of I hold a MA in Professional Writing and BA in English from the University of Massachusetts and a certificate in Professional Communications: Writing from Emerson College.

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