January 14, 2009 / 1:28 AM / 12 years ago

California solar company slashes half its staff

LOS ANGELES, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Solar power company OptiSolar Inc has cut nearly 300 jobs, or half its work force, and halted construction of a manufacturing plant because it could not secure the funding it needed to expand, a spokesman said on Tuesday.

The privately held company, which made headlines last year when it secured a deal to build a 550-megawatt solar power plant in Central California for utility PG&E Corp (PCG.N), said its biggest contract would not be affected by the move because construction was not scheduled to begin until 2010.

OptiSolar spokesman Alan Bernheimer said the company had eliminated 185 positions at its Hayward, California headquarters and an additional 105 jobs in Sacramento, the location of a planned manufacturing plant.

“It’s on hold until we are able to attract financial support,” Bernheimer said, adding that the company was applying for loan guarantees from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The financial crisis and tight credit markets have put expansion of the high-flying renewable energy industry on hold in recent weeks, though many companies are encouraged by President-elect Barack Obama’s pledge to double alternative energy production in three years as part of a plan to stimulate economic activity.

“We’d like to take the Obama administration at their word,” Bernheimer said. “We’re sort of the poster child for what they’re talking about — renewable energy, green jobs and U.S.-based high-tech manufacturing.”

Once it is completed, the Sacramento plant will be capable of producing more than 600 MW of OptiSolar’s thin film solar panels a year and is expected to employ about 1,000 people, Bernheimer said.

Until that plant is able to begin production, OptiSolar is relying on a smaller manufacturing facility in Hayward to fulfill its current commitments to customers.

OptiSolar so-called thin film solar panels are made from amorphous silicon and are cheaper to produce than traditional crystalline silicon panels.

Its deal with PG&E, announced in August, comes as California utilities are scrambling to meet the state’s mandated goal of producing 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2010. (Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

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