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Abound Solar halts production, cuts 180 jobs

February 28, 2012

A Colorado-based solar module maker said Tuesday that it was suspending work on its first-generation models and laying off about 180 workers as the company focuses on a more efficient product.

Abound Solar, which hoped to hire up to 1,200 people in Indiana by the end of next year, said it plans to rehire the laid-off Colorado employees in six to nine months, after it retools equipment and manufacturing processes for the new module, Chief Financial Officer Steve Abely said. About 100 temporary workers also would be laid off, according to The Longmont Times-Call.

The Loveland-based company had about 400 employees before the cuts. Permanent workers have received severance packages.

The company received a $400 million loan guarantee from the federal government as part of a stimulus package in 2010 but has drawn less than $70 million, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

When it received the loan guarantee, Abound was projected to create 1,500 jobs in Colorado and Indiana, up from a total of about 360. Abound Solar said it still has long-term plans for the massive, unused Getrag transmission plant in Tipton, north of Indianapolis.

Less than six months ago, Abound officials said the company was on track with its original business plan, which called for adding a huge amount of manufacturing capacity in Tipton in 2012 or 2013 and hiring 900 to 1,200 people. But officials also said they wouldn't start operations in Indiana until the company reached capacity in Colorado.

Abound Solar makes thin-film cadmium telluride solar modules. Its first-generation module performs at a 10.5-percent efficiency. The new module performs at a 12.5-percent efficiency, which would be more competitive with modules from Chinese manufacturers, Abely said.

U.S. solar industry players have been facing stiff competition from companies in China, where the government spent more than $30 billion in 2010 to subsidize its solar industry, according to U.S. energy officials.

Abound's new solar module should save customers money, company officials said.

"While this is a difficult move with regards to temporarily reducing our work force, we know that accelerating the introduction of our next generation module will bring significant benefits to our customers and allow us to create even more jobs in the future," CEO Craig Witsoe said in a prepared statement.

"While the challenges facing solar manufacturers have been widely reported, we continue to believe that supporting innovative companies like this is important to ensuring our nation has the ability to compete for the clean energy jobs of tomorrow," energy department spokesman Damien LaVera said in a prepared statement.

He said the department would keep working with Abound, as it does with all loan recipients, as the company makes changes toward manufacturing a new module.

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