ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Schott Solar PV Inc. is shutting its manufacturing plant at the Mesa del Sol master-planned community in south Albuquerque and laying off 250 employees.
The company, which opened the 200,000-square-foot operation in 2009, will close down its solar photovoltaic panel production line on Friday, immediately letting 200 workers go, spokesman Matthew Kraft told the Journal.
“We are … ceasing operations in Albuquerque,” Kraft said. “It’s primarily the (photovoltaic) line that’s shutting down. The (concentrated solar power) line will ramp down over the course of the summer.”
The remaining 50 employees will be laid off during the summer.
Solar photovoltaic directly converts sunlight to electricity, while concentrated solar uses reflectors to heat liquids in tubes, creating steam to run a turbine generator. Schott makes solar panels and components for concentrated solar systems at the plant.
“We are extremely sorry to hear about the closure at Schott Solar,” Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry said in a statement. “Our first concern is for the employees and their families, and we appreciate that Schott will be working with the community’s resource groups to help these folks make a transition into other jobs.”
Schott received some property tax breaks from the city as part of a 2008 industrial revenue bond deal, said Deirdre Firth, a division manager in the city’s Economic Development Department. Under the agreement, the plant’s closure means the company will have to repay 60 percent to 80 percent of the tax abatements it received, she said. The city is still researching how much that will be.
Kraft said the company was informing its employees about the closure on Thursday as they came in to work on shifts. Until all had been notified, the company was not publicly discussing the reasons for closing, Kraft said.
“We are staying in the (concentrated solar) business in the U.S., but not in New Mexico, and not from a production standpoint,” Kraft said. “That’s all I can say at the moment.”
The world market for solar panel makers has been particularly volatile since last year. Speculation was circulating among local solar industry leaders that Schott may announce it’s shutting down all photovoltaic manufacturing operations worldwide to focus on concentrated solar, and on Schott’s traditional glass-making business.
A sharp drop in silicon prices, coupled with low production costs in Asia, has led to a surge in imports of inexpensive solar panels from China. That, combined with depressed demand in European markets, has pressured U.S.-based solar panel makers.
On Thursday a Colorado-based solar panel maker became the third clean-energy company to seek bankruptcy protection after receiving an economic stimulus loan from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Abound Solar of Loveland, Colo., which received a $400 million loan guarantee from the Obama administration, said it will suspend operations next week, after talks with potential buyers broke down. The company received about $70 million from the Energy Department before officials froze its credit line last year.
California solar panel maker Solyndra and Beacon Power, a Massachusetts energy-storage firm, declared bankruptcy last year. Solyndra received a $528 million federal loan, while Beacon Power got a $43 million loan guarantee.
Schott’s Albuquerque plant received a $33 million tax credit, also from stimulus money, from the federal government in January 2010.
Until recently, Schott executives had said publicly that the U.S. market for solar panels and products remained strong, and that the company’s Albuquerque plant was operating at normal production levels.
Schott Solar PV is a subsidiary of Germany’s Schott Solar AG, a global company with production and distribution facilities in North America, Europe, Asia and Latin America.
Schott Solar is the only photovoltaic manufacturer in New Mexico.
Advent Solar Inc., a venture capital-backed company that also made solar panels at an 87,000-square-foot factory at Mesa del Sol, was sold to a California company in 2009 after the recession dried up capital markets, starving the company of needed credit to continue operations.
Schott Solar was seen as a critical part of New Mexico’s growing solar industry and a potential magnet for suppliers and other solar-related companies to locate here.
Most of New Mexico’s solar photovoltaic integration and installation firms have used Schott panels on commercial-scale projects around the state. A one-megawatt system at the Albuquerque International Sunport’s parking facility is powered by Schott panels, the last phase of which was finished in late May.
Three other large-scale solar manufacturers continue to operate in Albuquerque, although none makes solar panels.
Unirac Inc. and Direct Power and Water Corp. make mounting platforms for solar photovoltaic. Array Technologies Inc. makes solar tracking systems.
Those companies are under less pressure than panel makers, but they’re affected by changing market conditions as firms like Schott scale back operations, said DPW vice president for Business Development Kevin Goodreau.
“PV module manufacturers are kind of the heart of the business,” Goodreau said. “If the heart dies, the rest of the body dies.”
Goodreau said Schott’s announcement is part of a broad shakeup in the solar industry that has yet to touch bottom.
“It’s a huge decision and a big eye opener to the entire industry,” Goodreau said.
Journal staff writer Dan McKay and the AP contributed to this report
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal