Bankrupt solar company Abound ruled not on par with Solyndra

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When he appeared before a House committee during the summer to explain why his solar company went bankrupt owing taxpayers $70 million, the chief executive for Abound Solar Inc. placed the blame largely on competition from heavily subsidized Chinese competitors.

Months earlier, executives at Solyndra LLC made a similar argument, and its workers later became eligible for assistance from the U.S. Department of Labor worth about $13,000 per employee.

But Abound workers aren’t so lucky.

The Labor Department has rejected aid packages for workers at the Colorado company in four locations. Notices for three of the determinations were published late last week in the Federal Register.

In each case, the Labor Department decided against doling out special government aid for workers who were displaced by foreign competition.

While officials previously certified assistance packages for Solyndra workers, the Labor Department said imports of products competing with Abound’s products had not increased enough to make workers eligible for the aid.

Though both were solar-panel makers, Abound and Solyndra made different products, even as their bankruptcies linked them in political headlines.

Solyndra went bankrupt last summer owing taxpayers more than a half-billion dollars, transforming the company from a darling of President Obama’s stimulus program into a political headache seized upon by Republican critics, including White House candidate Mitt Romney.

Abound Solar filed for bankruptcy in June, losing about $70 million in taxpayer funding. Its collapse drew immediate comparisons to Solyndra as administration officials and company executives alike blamed heavily subsidized Chinese imports for driving the solar companies out of business.

“Extreme price actions by Chinese companies believed to be selling solar panels below cost, or dumping, has had a harmful effect on many American solar manufacturing companies, including Abound,” Craig Witsoe, the company’s former chief executive officer, told a House panel this summer.

Likewise, former employees and contractors of Abound specifically referenced the impact of China on Solyndra in their application for trade benefits sent to the Labor Department.

Citing the successful Trade Adjustment Assistance petition filed on behalf of Solyndra employees, three former Abound workers told Labor Department officials in their application that Abound “was drastically affected by a worldwide plunge in solar module price, based in part on subsidies that Chinese manufacturers receive from their government.”

Two of the workers could not be reached for comment and a third declined to comment Tuesday.

In a written ruling rejecting the Abound application, the Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration found that imports of products comparable to Abound’s weren’t significant and “thus could not have contributed to worker separations” at Abound.

Nearly a year earlier, the Labor Department made the opposite ruling in the case of Solyndra.

Indeed, the Labor Department ruled that “customer and aggregate United States imports of articles like or directly competitive with the cylindrical solar panel systems by Solyndra LLC have increased.”

While Abound and Solyndra have much in common — both were solar-panel makers, received generous federal loans and ended up in bankruptcy court — they offered different products.

Abound made thin film cadmium telluride solar modules that turn solar energy into electricity, and the company said its technology performed better than crystalline silicon in low light and high-temperature conditions. By contrast, Solyndra made cylindrical panels that were new to the market and unproven.

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