SunPower CEO, Tom Werner, On Asking For 201 Exclusion and Leading The Fight Since 2003
Tom Werner joined SunPower as employee number 35 and became the CEO in 2003. Since going public in 2005, Tom has led the company through the solar industry to where it is today. With 1,100 employees in the US and operations around the world. With the 201 petition at the top of mind, I ask Tom about the exclusion SunPower is asking the ITC for and why he thinks First Solar asked for tariffs to be implemented when they were aleady exempt. It’s difficult to get public company CEOs to open up but I saw a long term vision come … Read More
This is your SolarWakeup for October 19th, 2017
This Is “Reality” The Hannity audio is actually a few weeks old according to my reporting, running on the radio in South Carolina in advance of Trump’s trip to the State. I saw your coverage and comments about the Sean Hannity audio and while I understand your frustration with the Obama language and Hannity talking points, I’d like you to stop whining. Until Rachel Maddow or Chris Hayes get their sit down with Trump, Hannity has the ear of the President. In 78 seconds he talks about manufacturing jobs in America being threatened by an offshore hedge fund, I’ll take it. The rest, that’s part of the reality show we live in.
Audience Of One. The moment the ITC voted to find serious injury, the jobs in the solar industry were in one person’s hands – and that’s Trump. He will have advisors in the White House that are nationalists and free market capitalists and they’ll argue about the virtue of both. What solar needs him to hear is that people are making stuff in the US for the solar industry and tariffs will impact jobs performed by robots and not people. Any tariff would lose American jobs and drive more robots working in the dark. An audience of one, an audience that watches Hannity, follows him on Twitter and retweets him. Hannity has the audience – you and I do not.
Protectionism Is Hated. When it comes to protectionism, the republican establishment and corporate interests cant align more on their hatred for these things. That’s why you see Heritage, Cato, R Street, ALEC and others come together with the solar industry to fight back. I’m thankful because they are good at public affairs and have the budget to attack this with great influence.
No More SUNE. A shareholder vote at TERP has approved the change to Brookfield as the sponsor of the yieldco, which is now owned 51% by Brookfield. Next up with Terraform Global which would quickly turn Brookfield in one of the largest solar asset owners in the world.
FERC Comments. Given all that is going on, not much focus has been given to the DOE NOPR that asks FERC to give subsidies to coal and nuclear plants. This could create destructive impacts on the power markets. The FERC commissioners appear sympathetic to the intent but feel changes would need to occur in order to move something forward. I’d expect many interested parties to continue alignment to educate the commission on pushing this back significantly.
Solar Focus Conference. Want to hear more about power markets and retail energy? I’ll be interviewing CleanChoice CEO Tom Matzzie at MDV-SEIA’s conference on November 7th.
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This is your SolarWakeup for October 18th, 2017
Hannity Goes Solar. I wasn’t expecting to find a video with audio from Sean Hannity speaking intelligently about the solar trade case. The audio was dubbed over the video and I haven’t figured out the original airing of it yet but it’s real. Make sure to tweet it out and get it viral.
Price Inflation. GTM Research published a 201 petition analysis. The data shows that the petition has already distorted market reality and driven prices well above global average. That’s the problem with this because even if the remedy isn’t put in effect yet, impacts are already felt. Deals aren’t getting done and people are already losing their jobs. Most of all, the market isn’t looking into the future. I urge you to keep moving forward because you will regret the gap in pipeline if you pull back now.
Market Bottom Falls Out.Looking at remedies in increments of 10 cents per watt, it shows what would happen to the market (it’s not good). The utility scale market would drop 10% at 10 cents and over 50% if a full 40 cent tariff is put in place. The requirement of the 201 petition is that the benefits of the remedy outweigh the negative impacts. No responsible person could argue that a remedy would help the solar industry or the US job market in any way.
Redefine Suniva’s Ownership. Many talking points have named Suniva as a foreign owned company, which structurally is probably true. It does create the confusion because Shunfeng has come out against the 201 petition. Suniva is controlled by the court and its primary DIP lender, SQN. So when you talk about Suniva, I think controlled by an offshore hedge fund is more accurate.
Stion’s Situation. Yesterday, news about Stion ceasing business operations was reported by multiple outlets. The company, which testified in favor at the first 201 hearing, gave little comments to me at the time. They did however continue to market themselves, I received an email urging me to buy product as late as last week. Stion’s failure is one of managements doing. They spent over $200million over the past decade on a bet that silicon prices would create high commodity pricing for crystalline modules. Ask Uni-Solar, Miasole, Solyndra and other thin film how that same bet worked out.
Storage In MA SMART. One of the interviews at SolarWakeup Live! Boston will be Michael Judge, the person in charge of getting SMART drafted and implemented for the MA solar market. Part of the program is the adder for energy storage, within a matrix on % of capacity and hours of charge. I look forward to learning more about how the dispatching of solar assets will play into the market resiliency.
Presented By True Green Capital. Our current partnership, Fund III, is actively seeking investment opportunities and channel partners to deploy capital in a scalable focused on DG and small utility scale projects. Fund III has ~$350million in equity commitments to build out a ~$1billion solar portfolio.
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This is your SolarWakeup for October 17th, 2017
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Suniva Gets Money. A judge has approved an additional $3million loan from DIP lenders. The majority of the money is going to Mayer Brown, the law firm, representing Suniva in the 201 petition with remaining dollars going to payroll and keeping the lights on. I am somewhat surprised to see that the payroll is still this high, likely representing 30-40 FTE still on the team.
For What? If you recall, SQN had between $51 and $52million in loans to Suniva before the DIP loans started. The 201 petition is meant to try and recoup as much of that as possible at the cost of the industry’s job losses. In the meantime, the only visible Suniva executive continues to get bonus payoffs comparable to singing for Ursula. SQN has no intention, in my opinion, to restart Suniva, solely focused on recouping its capital. I’ve been told that US manufacturing would be thin on labor and include more robots instead, which makes me wonder and ask people in the know what the market value of the Suniva equipment is.
China Diplomacy. I continue to be shocked that this is happening to solar. When you read the Axios article, you have to wonder why solar has to be held to the higher standard of being integrated in the US. Bankers, lawyers and developers from the US are doing business across the world in solar. SunPower stated on the record how much money they invest in R&D in the US with US labor and scientists. I bring up the iPhone again, because there is no more obvious product in our lives that relies on foreign manufacturing.
Where This Ends. Trump is scheduled to head to China in November, after the vote by the ITC on one or more remedies. While the ITC remedies will be important, I see the potential for a buffet of options to come from the commission with an array of remedies to choose from. I expect the staff to be read in to the options before the full proposal goes to the President because this is going to come up in China. The minimum price doesn’t seem likely to me and the quotas without a way to fill the gap in our market are also too damaging. The question is how high the tariff, per watt, will be. Whether through and import license or as a tariff, with a mechanism to drive some money to US manufacturers, a per watt price adder is the most likely outcome in my mind.
Podcast Plug. States are the place for solar policy drives the market. I interviewed Lucy Mason from AriSEIA here, and I look forward to speaking with MA Senator Boncore about NEM Caps and the director of MA DOER about SMART program.
Presented By EnterSolar. EnterSolar is a leading provider of solar photovoltaic solutions to the commercial marketplace that is ranked the #1 solar developer in New York State and in the top 10 nationally. We are currently hiring at our growing company.
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