From pv magazine USA.
China’s Hanergy has “furloughed” almost all employees and halted manufacturing at three American solar companies and a German firm it acquired this decade – as well as at its China headquarters.
Unannounced lay-offs without pay or benefits have left more than 600 American workers, 180 employees in Germany and thousands in China unemployed and in the dark.
In 2013, Hanergy acquired U.S. gallium-arsenide (GaAs) solar developer Alta Devices for an undisclosed sum. With the acquisition, Alta joined CIGS firms MiaSolé, Solibro and Global Solar Energy (GSE) under the Hanergy umbrella. With little synergy among the acquired firms’ venture capital-funded technologies, Hanergy’s solar shopping spree appeared less than focused at the time.
A recent pv magazine article about lay-offs at Alta Devices spurred a number of employees at other Hanergy-owned solar companies to get in touch and tell us their stories.
An employee of Santa Clara-based MiaSolé told pv magazine Hanergy had left all its employees – approximately 100 people, according to the source – without pay, paid time off (PTO) or reimbursement of expenses and had “closed the doors”.
Chief technical officer Atiye Baymam said: “MiaSolé is on a temporary production shutdown to reduce cost through the holiday season. The company has secured an international investment to further expand production capacity internationally.” She added: “A few weeks ago we announced another world record of 18.64% module efficiency on a commercial-size flexible PV module (aperture area 1.08m²), verified by Fraunhofer.”
MiaSolé has been on holiday shutdown since October 18.
Global Solar Energy was building CIGS-based flexible solar products in Tucson, Arizona until October 10, when it announced it had “no money for payroll and everyone was sent home”, according to a source who added: “On December 9 they extended the furlough to January 17.”
According to a December 9 email obtained by pv magazine: “Daily communication with Hanergy headquarters continues. GSE CEO Lin Hai told [a volunteer steering group] that top funding priorities are still for PTO hours and health insurance for December, as well as items required to keep [the] GSE facility operational.” The email continued: “GSE CEO Lin Hai is working closely with [the] board and leadership team of Hanergy to get funding for GSE.”
Eyewitnesses and pv magazine staff have confirmed that on December 4, at least three Hanergy employees climbed up to the roof of the Hanergy headquarters building in Beijing and threatened to jump off.
The employees were reportedly protesting against the company’s failure to pay a reported six to seven months months of back pay. After several hours of discussion the employees were persuaded to halt their protest.
There have been other protests and lobby sit-ins and, according to sources, up to 8,000 Hanergy employees have not been paid.
Solibro was acquired by Hanergy in 2012 but, as pv magazine has reported, it has proven difficult to establish exactly who owned the German thin-film module maker when it went insolvent in November with the loss of 180 jobs.
Last week, pv magazine reported Hanergy-owned Alta Devices – the world record efficiency holder for single-junction solar cells – had furloughed almost all of its staff at Sunnyvale, California without pay, notice or PTO. That claim was made by several of the almost 250 employees affected.
Chief operating officer Charles Marino, however, tried to tell a more positive story: “I am pleased to announce that an agreement has been reached between Alta Devices and Hanergy to allow Alta to bring in outside investors to breathe new life into the company and to get the thin film GaAs technology leader back on track. We are encouraged by this agreement that allows us to raise funding and we know that we still have a lot of work ahead of us.”
Why Hanergy has accepted new investment now, after months of inaction, remains a mystery. Skilled employees stranded without pay or health care are likely to find new jobs and the good faith of customers and vendors may be difficult to recover.
Production remains halted at Alta.
Rise and fall
In 2015, Hanergy became the world’s largest solar company by market cap, and founder Li Hejun was named China’s fifth-richest man. The Hong Kong-listed subsidiary of Hanergy, Hanergy Thin Film Power Group, had a market cap of $14 billion, compared to the $5.5 billion value of First Solar at the time.
However, the stock price plunged and trading in Hanergy Thin Film shares was halted in May 2015 after it emerged the company’s finances had been inflated by intra-unit trading, with the business eventually de-listed.
Unable to pay its debts, Hanergy was forced to sell its chief asset, a hydroelectric power station to creditors a few weeks ago. The commercial future of the company appears uncertain.
Employees in the dark
Hanergy’s investor relations spokesperson has not responded to inquiries from pv magazine about the unfolding crisis at the company. Unpaid employees are also having trouble getting information about payroll and the future of their companies from head office and some have expressed concern over the fate of the company’s thin-film intellectual property and knowhow.
The U.S. Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act requires employers to provide “notice 60 days in advance of covered plant closings and covered mass lay-offs”. Exceptions to the notice period can be made only for “faltering companies” and in “unforeseen business circumstances”.