Another Solar Power Company Lays off Hundreds of Workers

“Just seven months after California-based solar power company Amonix Inc. opened its largest manufacturing plant, in North Las Vegas, the company’s contractor has laid off nearly two-thirds of its workforce,” reports the Las Vegas Sun.

“Flextronics Industrial, the Singapore solar panel manufacturer that partnered with Amonix to staff the new $18 million, 214,000-square-foot plant, laid off about 200 of its 300-plus employees Tuesday,” according to the report.

Eric Culberson, Amonix’s director of manufacturing operations, claims that the mass firings are a necessary part of “retooling” the factory so that the company can “roll out its next-generation product.”

“The new 8700 utility-scale CPV solar power system is a higher efficiency and lower cost,” Culberson said. “Once it is ready, we will ramp back up to meet the demands of the industry.”

Culberson says the job cuts are “temporary and expects to begin hiring more people in the second half of the year to meet demand.”

However, given that layoffs were made at all levels of the company — from entry-level assemblers, process engineers, production supervisors and quality-control techs, according to one employee — and that the company was hiring as recently as three months ago, the firings seem very odd.

They were hiring “production supervisors” and “process engineers” and then promptly fired them?

Many critics contend that no normal, long-lasting business would operate in this manner. Indeed, the time and money it would cost to hire and train new employees (once that market “demand” goes up) would far outweigh the cost of, say, scaling back current employee’s hours.

Unless, of course, the company has no intention of ever hiring new staff and the “we’ll rehire soon enough” promise is far from factual, the firings, from a financial point of view, make very little sense.

One employee, Theodore Lewis, was working at the plant for six months before he and several other employees were called into a “mandatory meeting” Tuesday.

“There was no excuse,” said Lewis, who was never told his job was temporary. “They just said our job was done.”

Lewis said he and other staff members were “confused and disappointed” when they heard the news and were told by human resources to “look for other local jobs in retail,” according to the report.

The firings and mass layoffs are contradictory to what was promised when the plant first opened its doors, namely, to bring hundreds of clean energy jobs and boost the local economy.

In fact, the plant was praised as a success earlier this month by Mayor Shari Buck in her state of the city address. But despite the recent layoffs, Buck said she has “faith the company will bring back the jobs.”

“They were temporary employees brought in to handle a major project,” she said.

Wait. Two-thirds of  the company’s workforce was “temporary”?

“Amonix is taking the opportunity to automate their system better and get ready for the next big project. I expect Amonix to continue to be successful and have a great future in their solar production,” Buck said.

Her words are reminiscent of the warm praise President Obama had for the company in 2010.

“A solar panel company — a solar power company called Amonix received a roughly $6 million tax credit for a new facility they’re building in the Las Vegas area, a tax credit they were able to match with roughly $12 million in private capital,” Obama said, while touting his policy of subsidizing green-tech companies, according to the Daily Caller.

“The only problem we have is these credits were working so well, there aren’t enough tax credits to go around,” Obama said. “When we announced the program last year, it was such a success we received 500 applications requesting over $8 billion in tax credits, but we only had $2.3 billion to invest.”

Yes, it’s true: Amonix was given a $5.9 million investment tax credit through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) in 2010, and another $12 million in private capital helped finance the plant.

Therefore, much like Solyndra and Willard & Kelsey Solar Group LLC, Amonix appears to be the latest among a growing number of “green energy” initiatives that have failed to make good on the promise to create jobs — despite having received generous financial support and the White House’s blessing.