Bitterfeld poly plant owner pays €12m to offload facility

UK polysilicon manufacturer PV Crystalox Solar has been forced to hand over a €12.3 million (US$16 million) sweetener to a new management team to avoid having to decommission its German poly plant at Bitterfeld.

A company spokesman told pv magazine the decision to hand over the plant plus the golden welcome was cheaper than having to refund grants and subsidies awarded by the German regional government and the EU.

"The grants and subsidies were linked to employment for a minimum of five years," said the PV Crystalox spokesman, "if the plant closes and the jobs are lost within that period, the monies have to be repaid with interest.

"The new management team want to take the plant in a new direction which is outside our business area so this is the best deal for all parties."

In a press release announcing the management ‘buy-in’ at Bitterfeld, Crystalox said the grant liabilities amounted to around €18.4 million.

Crystalox CEO Iain Dorrity was quoted as saying the buy-in would enable ‘some jobs to be maintained’ at the plant although no specific figures were given.

The company spokesman added: "The new management team will have to decide on staff numbers but they will be bound to keep a certain number of employees by the conditions of the grants and subsidies."

PV Crystalox employed around 110 staff at Bitterfeld until polysilicon production stopped in November 2011. The decision to idle the 1,800 ton facility prompted a €78 million pre-tax loss at the plant in 2012.

Plunging polysilicon prices and global oversupply have seen the Oxfordshire company reduce staff numbers to less than 50 from an average of around 130 before the price falls.

Crystalox produces ingots and blocks at its Abingdon facility which are wafered either in-house at Erfurt, in Germany or by subcontractors in Japan.