First Solar Furlough

Solar company that received billions in loan guarantees furloughs over 100 employees after CEO tells Congress his company is 'financially strong'

May 30, 2012

A politically connected, taxpayer-funded solar firm announced a massive round of furloughs on Friday, just weeks after its chairman told Congress his company was "financially strong."

First Solar, an Arizona-based solar panel manufacturer that received more than $3 billion in federal loan guarantees under President Obama, has furloughed half of the 240-person workforce at its Antelope Valley Solar Ranch One (AVSR1) power plant near Los Angeles.

Green Tech Media reports that the move is "a severe blow to an already jobs-poor Los Angeles-adjacent community where studies found as many as one in three homeowners behind and/or underwater with their mortgages."

The announcement comes two weeks after First Solar chairman Michael Ahearn told members of the House Oversight committee that the company "remains financially strong and well positioned to execute through the current market environment."

Ahearn’s testimony was supplemented by a presentation that included testimony from a number of First Solar employees, including Javier Pomposo and Zachary Christensen from the AVSR1 plant.

"I enjoy going to work every day and being able to provide for my family," Pomposo said, according to the presentation.

"For the first time in years I can do things like take my wife out to dinner and a movie without worrying about my next paycheck," Christensen added. "I appreciate the opportunity to work every day."

It is not known whether Pomposo and Christensen were among the 120 employees furloughed.

Ahearn’s remarks ran contrary to First Solar’s earnings report earlier this month, when the company posted a 12 percent decline in revenue during the first three months of 2012 and missed analyst expectations by $182 million, or 27 percent.

In April, First Solar announced plans to lay off 2,000 employees—about 30 percent of its workforce—and close a number of its facilities around the world.

Despite receiving billions in federal taxpayer-guaranteed loans, First Solar does not employ the majority of its workforce in the United States. "In sheer numbers, most of our full-time employees are outside the U.S," Ahearn told members of the Oversight committee.

Congressional investigators have raised questions as to whether the Obama administration cut corners in an effort to funnel taxpayer dollars to First Solar. The company has close ties to Democratic leadership and the White House.

Kathleen Weiss, the head lobbyist and vice president of First Solar, has visited the White House at least 16 times to meet with Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett and other senior administration officials.

Jose Villarreal, a board member of the Center for American Progress—a left-wing think tank closely tied to the administration that has lobbied aggressively for green energy loans—sits on the board of First Solar.