Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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October 11, 2011

Solar company progresses toward Tipton expansion despite industry woes

TIPTON — Competitors’ collapses that drew criticisms to the U.S. solar industry do not mean the manufacturer planning a major expansion to Tipton County faces the same ill fate, the company says.

A handful of hires have already happened in Indiana, a spokesperson for the company said Tuesday.

Abound Solar Inc. has remained adamant publicly for more than a month that it is operating smoothly and is not coping with the same struggles that led to the bankruptcy of fellow stimulus beneficiary Solyndra LLC.

Abound is using a $400 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy to expand in Colorado then into Tipton County, where the company says it will add at least 850 jobs.

Solyndra, which received approval in 2009 for a $535 million loan guarantee, has brought the government program as well as the entire U.S. solar industry under public scrutiny after the company filed for bankruptcy.

The company followed Evergreen Inc. and SpectraWatt Inc. as the third U.S. solar equipment producer to file for bankruptcy within a month.

Abound on Monday also announced CEO Tom Tiller would step down for personal reasons. The company has appointed Craig Witsoe, head of Lineage Power, to take over the position.

“Solar is a relatively young market and there are going to be growing pains,” Abound wrote in the newsletter. “We believe that we are prepared to meet these changes and the associated challenges head on.”

Tipton County Commissioner Jane Harper said Tuesday area residents began contacting her soon after Solyndra collapsed. Concerns have emerged about whether Abound would actually begin operating at the never-used plant at the corner of U.S. 31 and Ind. 28.

She accredited a lot of the suspicions not only to a frenzy of attention on the solar industry since Solyndra’s bankruptcy, but the history of the empty sprawling factory, which previously belonged to Chrysler and Getrag Transmission.

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