October 16, 2012|
by Todd Shepherd
The Northern Colorado Business Report called it, "one of the largest corporate bankruptcies in recent memory."
But even disregarding the size of the business, Abound Solar is remarkable because of the personal endorsement of the President of the United States, saying the business would eventually create 1,500 full-time jobs.
After the company announced Chapter 7 bankruptcy this past June, former Abound CEO Craig Witsoe quickly blamed Chinese "dumping" of solar panels, which flooded the market, causing prices to crater. With prices demonstrably lower, the company couldn't complete, Witsoe said.
Certainly, cheap solar panels from China hurt the solar market, but the truth about Abound Solar isn't that simple, and it hasn't been fully told yet.
Let's go over the timeline from roughly 2010 to now.
July 3rd, 2010 is the day President Obama announced the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) would be supplying Abound with a federally-backed loan.
Roughly two months later, September 27, 2010, CompleteColorado.com reported the potential pay-to-play aspects between Congresswoman Betsy Markey, wealthy Democratic benefactor Pat Stryker, and Abound. Key to the report was a screenshot showing that Stryker was a major investor in Abound. What we didn't know at the time was, a Pat Stryker was also shown in White House visitor logs at key points in the timeline of the Abound loan decision. A recent report from The Colorado Observer also now reveals that in April 2009, all of Colorado's congressional Democrats signed on to a letter urging Energy Secretary Steven Chu to approve a loan for Abound. Neither of the two Republican members of the delegation at the time signed on to the letter.
In February 2012, Abound announced layoffs of 180 workers, saying the layoffs were only temporary as the company was revamping their production line for their next generation module. One interesting aspect of the layoffs then became the question, is Abound financing their production line revamp in part by using the state's unemployment system? After all, the laid off employees would be obtaining unemployment assistance, but were also being told by Abound they'd be re-hired later in the year.
Almost simultaneously, alternative media again scooped the mainstream media, when Amy Oliver broke the story that Weld County had already cut off tax credits to the company for 2012, suspecting that there wasn't a legitimate return on investment to be made.
The next troubling issue for the company was again exposed by CompleteColorado.com. In March, this website published an internal email showing that Abound made an abrubt decision to shut down production over the Christmas holiday. The email warned employees, "Don't let the rumor mill create false purposes for this shutdown." The admonition seemed to strongly suggest the "rumor mill" had been fully operational at one time within the company. Another document published in the same story showed that Abound intended to "stretch payables" in 2012, suggesting the company wasn't cash-heavy.
This May, Colorado Watchdog published yet another internal document from Abound. This time, the email exposed the fact that engineers at Abound had removed an entire rooftop of defective panels from Pat Stryker's headquarters in Fort Collins. Certain details of the email revealed that the problems with the panels were inherrent production issues, and not from some disaster like a lightning strike or hail storm. The email was from November of 2009, meaning that Stryker likely knew Abound was suffering from severe product quality issues just one month before the company would sign its loan with the DOE.
Then, this October, The Daily Caller News Foundation ripped the lid of all these simmering issues with an investigative report using sources formerly with the company, as well as documents and a video of one of Abound's solar panels catching fire. The exposé laid out a thesis that the company's product had never really been comercially viable...ever. The story quoted one source as saying, "Our solar modules worked as long as you didn't put them in the sun."
A federally backed startup, with connections to one of the biggest power-players in Colorado politics, endorsed personally by the President, and the product caught fire and never really worked? Was the DOE misled? Or perhaps, did the DOE know how bad Abound's product was, but instead looked the other way? Were investors lied to?
And how much local press has this budding scandal received?
The ABC affiliate in Denver, KMGH Ch 7, broke the news that Weld County D.A. Ken Buck was opening an investigation into the failed company.
The Ft. Collins Coloradoan eulogized the company, making note of the The Daily Caller's report, as well as the ongoing investigations.
Outside those two reports, the rest of the silence from the mainstream media has been deafening.
Stay tuned to CompleteColorado.com for further developments. And if you have information on this story you'd like to share, email us at CompleteColorado@gmail.com.
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