Thursday, July 19, 2012

Amonix Shuttered After Only a Year of Operation and $20 Million in Fed Money


By Hubble Smith
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
Posted: Jul. 18, 2012 | 10:59 a.m.
Updated: Jul. 19, 2012 | 8:15 a.m.

The Amonix solar manufacturing plant in North Las Vegas, subsidized by more than $20 million in federal tax credits and grants, has closed its 214,000-square-foot facility about a year after it opened.

Officials at Amonix headquarters in Seal Beach, Calif., have not responded to repeated calls for comment this week, but the company began selling equipment, from automated tooling systems to robotic welding cells, in an online auction Wednesday.

A designer and manufacturer of concentrated photovoltaic solar power systems, Amonix received $6 million in federal tax credits for the North Las Vegas plant and a $15.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy in 2007 for research and development.

Rene Kenerly, a former material and supply manager at Amonix, said the plant has been idle since May 1, when he was laid off. At its peak, the plant had about 700 employees working three shifts a day to produce solar panels for a utility in Amarosa, Colo., he said.

"I don't think they had a lot of training," Kenerly said. "There were a lot of quality issues. A lot of stuff was coming back because it had some functionality issues."

The Amonix plant was highly touted by political leaders and economic development officials when it opened in May 2011. Company executives said they would employ as many as 300 assembly line workers paid $12 to $14 an hour, plus benefits.

Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., and Gov. Brian Sandoval were among the political leaders who lauded the company when it announced it would start making solar panels in the Golden Triangle Industrial Park. Reid in particular has pushed for solar energy research and development in Nevada, drawing parallels between the value of Nevada sunshine and Saudi Arabian oil.

"Last year, Amonix CEO Brian Robert­son was tragically killed in a plane crash and unfortunately the company was unable to recover from this difficult time," Reid said Wednesday in an email statement. "Some people will be tempted to use today's unfortunate news for political gain. But I am hopeful that the bipartisan support for this project and the public-private partnership that helped make this and many other projects possible will not be degraded by dirty energy supporters for their own profit or political gain. The clean energy sector is too important to Nevada's future, and I hope that those that publicly acknowledge this will continue to strengthen the bipartisan support for renewable energy programs and incentives that exists in Nevada."

Department of Energy press secretary Jen Stutsman noted that the project had bipartisan support from elected officials, including Republicans Sandoval and North Las Vegas Mayor Shari Buck.

Amonix was selected for a grant under the Bush administration's Department of Energy in 2007 and eventually received a total of $15.6 million under the grant, she said.

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