SpectraWatt files for bankruptcy, plans to stage asset auction

Solar cell manufacturer SpectraWatt has filed for bankruptcy in the US courts and plans to auction off its assets.

SpectraWatt, based in Hopewell Junction, New York, has sought bankruptcy protection from its creditors under US Chapter 11 rules and wants permission to hold the auction next month.

The development is not a great surprise. In December, SpectraWatt announced it would it close its New York cell factory and lay off almost all its staff in response to “a large drop-off in demand” for solar cells.

The risk of SpectraWatt hitting the rocks has also been heavily trailed by Roth & Rau, the PV production-equipment manufacturer and a major supplier to the US firm.

In February, the German company took a one-off €12m financial hit attributed to the likelihood of insolvency at SpectraWatt, which is understood to have been trying to settle with creditors and find a buyer for itself for most of this year.

SpectraWatt becomes the second significant US solar group to seek Chapter 11 protection in a matter of weeks, after module and wafer-maker Evergreen Solar took the same route.

Like Evergreen, SpectraWatt was in line for millions of dollars in aid from local and federal grant schemes to support its PV manufacturing efforts, though it is unclear how much was handed over.

The company is a spin-off from chip behemoth Intel, which according to SpectraWatt’s website remains an investor along with Goldman Sachs and Solon, the German PV manufacturer that is experiencing problems of its own in the US.

As recently as November 2010 SpectraWatt was being lauded by the local business community, receiving a Business Excellence Award for operating the first solar-cell plant in New York, which it planned to build-out to up to 200MW of production capacity.

It even starred in a CNN report headlined “Keeping Solar Jobs in America”.

But by the end of December, SpectraWatt had already served notice that the factory was on borrowed time and more than 100 employees faced being laid-off.

Andrew Lee, London

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