Hoku, Solar and Fuel Cell Aspirant, Bankrupt With $1B in Debt

on July 08, 2013 at 4:00 PM


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Hoku Corp just filed for bankruptcy in Pocatello federal court according to reports in the Idaho State Journal.

Hoku started out as a fuel cell membrane and materials company, went public in 2005 on little revenue, and then pivoted to becoming a solar polysilicon manufacturer. The company also tried its hand at solar installation in its home state of Hawaii with $1.6 million in 2013 revenue, according to reports in Hawaii’s Star Advertiser.

The firm’s stock was delisted from the Nasdaq last year. The company is now $1 billion in debt to 30 creditors including Tianwei and the Idaho plant’s main construction contractor. Hoku is a subsidiary of Tianwei New Energy Holdings, which is an affiliate of China South Industries Group Corporation (CSGC). CSGC is a mammoth firm with 191,000 employees. Tianwei manufactures polysilicon, wafers, cells and modules.

In 2012, in a case of questionable timing, Hoku was looking to open up a long-threatened $700 million polysilicon plant in Pocatello, Idaho — a factory that sought to supply a transitioning and hobbled market. Hoku’s CFO and CEO resigned around that time while the company was having difficulty paying its Idaho electric bill. Hoku had received $280 million in prepayments from PV panel manufacturers such as Hanwha SolarOne, Tianwei New Energy, Jinko Solar, and and a small prepayment from Suntech for polysilicon to be delivered between 2012 and 2016. The firm has been threatening to build the Idaho factory since 2008 — when polysilicon was more expensive than today.

The firm never really had a technological differentiation in silicon manufacturing or in proton exchange membrane (PEM)  fuel cells. Nor did it seem to have a strategic business plan, other than to go public and pay its executives.

Perhaps its Chinese Fortune 1000 conglomerate parent will engineer a financial rescue of the firm.

Eric Wesoff: July 6, 2013 via Greentech Media