SolarWorld to layoff Oregon employees

Troubled German photovoltaic giant SolarWorld said this week it would lay off some 50 employees from its silicon crystal factory in Hillsboro, Oregon.

SolarWorld said it was idling its crystallization and wafering departments in Hillsboro as the company develops new, more cost-effective technologies in its factories in both Hillsboro and Germany.

The company, which has led efforts in the U.S. and Europe to impose anti-dumping duties on Chinese photovoltaic imports, said sustained import dumping in the U.S. market by Chinese suppliers "means the company can no longer continue to produce solar wafers in Hillsboro using conventional crystallization methods."

Many of the employees who will soon lose their jobs, most of whom grow silicon crystal and cut crystals into solar wafers at the Hillsboro factory, will be eligible for federal "trade-adjustment" assistance because the U.S. Department of Labor has determined that Chinese solar-panel imports caused their impending layoffs, the company said.

Oregon daily The Oregonian reported earlier this month that SolarWorld would lay off 100 employees, or 14% of its workforce in Hillsboro.

Whether that number has now changed remains unclear. SolarWorld officials could not be reached for comment.

SolarWorld currently has more than 700 employees in Oregon. According to the company, the Hillsboro complex will remain "the largest solar cell and panel producer in the Western Hemisphere."

SolarWorld has continued to take issue with Chinese practices. "Without dumping and subsidies, China has no cost advantage over U.S. manufacturers on wafers or any other aspect of solar production," the company said.

While the both the U.S. and the European Commission have imposed punitive duties on Chinese photovoltaic products, European and Chinese trade officials are expected to hammer out a settlement to resolve the trade dispute in the coming days.

Despite the fervent crusade SolarWorld has led against Chinese dumping practices via its EU ProSun lobby group, a large percentage of Europe’s solar industry opposes the EC’s punitive tariffs, fearing the resulting price hikes would severely damage the industry as a whole.

SolarWorld has accused Chinese companies of circumventing U.S. import duties by manufacturing cells in Taiwan and elsewhere for assembly in China and then exporting them duty-free to the U.S.

SolarWorld has been struggling under a mountain of debt and looking to restructure and inject much needed capital into the company.

Declining shipments and persistent price pressure led to a revenue drop of more than 40% to €201 million ($266 million) in the first half of 2013. The company nevertheless managed to narrow its operating loss from €144 million a year ago to €69 million in the first six months of the year.

SolarWorld said last month that it was finalizing a deal with subsidiary Qatar Solar Technologies (QSTec) to invest €35 million into the parent group in exchange for a 30% stake.