Stimulus-Funded Solar Firm Cancels IPO

Received $1.6 billion DOE loan, executives hosted fundraiser for Harry Reid

The New York Times reports:

Late Wednesday night, BrightSource Energy, a start-up formed to build solar thermal power plants, was forced to make a humbling admission: Despite a year of hopes and efforts, it could not find the market it wanted for its stock. The company canceled its initial public offering of shares just hours before trading was to begin. …

"The continued market and economic volatility are not optimal conditions for an I.P.O.," John Woolard, BrightSource’s chief executive, said in a prepared statement announcing the withdrawal of the stock offering.

In part, the company’s I.P.O. troubles show the limits of investor faith in the kinds of large-scale solar power projects that BrightSource develops, analysts say. The projects often pose environmental challenges, need new infrastructure and take up acres of land, and they require enormous investments before generating revenue, posing large risks for developers.

BrightSource received a $1.6 billion loan guarantee from the Department of Energy, funds that were allocated in the $787 billion stimulus package passed in 2009.

The largest investor in Brightsource (with a 25 percent stake) is VantagePoint Venture Partners, a firm whose principal, Sanjay Wagle, helped raised millions for President Obama’s campaign in 2008 and even served as a "renewable energy grants adviser" at the DOE.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) is an avid supporter of the BrightSource, and the company’s executives have in turn given thousands of dollars to Reid over the past few years, even hosting a fundraiser for Reid at the BrightSource headquarters in Oakland, Calif.