Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Alfidi Capital Predicted Solar Trust Of America Disaster In August 2011

My analysis is usually far ahead of current events.  I predicted in August 2011 that Solar Trust of America was making a very poor strategic decision with its plant in Blythe, California.  Events have finally caught up to my prediction. The world's largest solar installation is now the world's largest pile of solar junk.  Solar Trust of America has declared bankruptcy.  The DOE loan guarantee of $2B was conditional and apparently Solar Trust never accepted it (as I stated in my original post), so Uncle Sam isn't on the hook here like he was in the Solyndra debacle.  The dumbest thing the company did was change the basic technology of the Blythe plant, rendering all work up to that point as a sunk cost.

Local officials shouldn't pin any false hopes on reactivating development of the project with a relatively tiny amount of DIP financing.  Whatever hardware exists at the Blythe project site will either be sold and carted away to a smaller site or will sit in the sun until another deep-pocketed solar developer comes along.  Maybe I could buy the whole thing for a buck fifty and restart it as originally configured for solar thermal generation.  I'd be smart enough to take the DOE loan guarantee this time.

The U.S. DOE should take away one very important lesson from its numerous efforts to accelerate domestic solar production.  Solar PV panel technology is a commodified industry.  The lowest-cost producers are in China so it makes little sense to subsidize U.S. panel manufacturers or even full sites that have to compete purely on base material cost.  The U.S. DOE should limit its industry promotion to the kind of basic research in material science where its national labs have always excelled.  DOE's Innovation Hubs can commercialize the tech.

DOE loses when it tries to pick "winners" in a commodified sector who get a subsidized cost of capital.  Utilities and ratepayers lose when the subsidized winners abandon their projects.  Taxpayers lose when the subsidized companies can't compete.

Nota bene:  No position in Solar Trust of America or any of the companies affiliated with this project, ever.