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February 29, 2012

UPDATE: Abound Solar lays off workers in Colo.

Tipton-bound company says job cuts are temporary

Tipton —

Abound Solar Inc. has laid off almost 300 workers in Colorado as part of a retooling and production change that will delay an expansion to Tipton at least one year.

The Colorado-based solar panel module manufacturer announced it would stop production of its first-generation solar panels. The company said it would use the downtime to retool equipment and finish developing more efficient solar modules.

The company has laid off 180 permanent employees and another 100 temporary workers. About 125 employees remain at Abound.

Layoffs should last six to nine months, Abound CEO Craig Witsoe said Wednesday.

“I think that, because of the market, everything in our expansion plans has been pushed out,” Witsoe said. “We’re still committed to Tipton, but we know that the timeline has pushed back.”

Abound plans to move into the vacant Getrag Transmission plant at the corner of U.S. 31 and Ind. 28.

The company in December 2010 secured a $400 million U.S. Department of Energy loan guarantee to add two production lines at its Longmont, Colo., plant, then expand to Tipton. Abound has said it would create 800 to 1,200 jobs at the Tipton plant.

The Tipton facility was expected to start hiring employees as early as late-2012.

Witsoe said the timeline for the move into Tipton would likely push back to 2013 or 2014.

A struggling solar market in the U.S. has pulled financial resources from Abound, which needs to begin producing the more efficient modules to stay competitive, Witsoe said.

“There’s probably no solar company making money today,” he said.

Industry analysts have speculated that Chinese solar manufacturers are “dumping” their panels in the U.S., which is when companies sell products into foreign markets for significantly lower costs. That has undercut American companies and pulled away their customers.

Abound, which incorporated as AVA Solar in 2007, does not have the cash on-hand to add new lines for the more efficient solar modules, then later upgrade its older equipment, Witsoe said. Because of that, the company has to shut down its current lines to change over production.

“The reason is ... you need to actually have those lines off to run all those experiments and make the process changes and equipment changes,” he said.

Abound’s new module, the AB2, produces 85 watts of electricity, compared to 82 watts with the company’s first-generation product.

Tipton County Commissioner Jane Harper said she spoke with Abound officials, and she was confident the company would follow through with its Tipton expansion.

“I remain optimistic regarding the future of the Abound Tipton site, and although this announcement delays the opportunity for our workforce to be gainfully employed,” Harper said, “the good news of a breakthrough by Abound Solar in advancing this technology will only increase the likelihood for the Tipton site to become the largest solar panel manufacturer in the U.S.”

For more of this story, read Thursday’s issue of the Kokomo Tribune.

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