- Solar module manufacturer Silicon Energy is struggling to keep incentives provided to the startup by the state of Minnesota. MinnPost reports lawmakers are backing away from supports after the five-year-old, 11-person company failed to provide 25 promised Iron Range jobs.
- Support for the solar maker is also being questioned because of $24,000 in campaign contributions it provided to Minnesota politicians – though the company's backers point out that's far less than fossil fuel companies regularly give. The bill to withdraw incentives and extra support for “Made in Minnesota” solar modules has passed the House but may stall in the Senate.
- Silicon Energy obtained a $5.1 million loan from the state-sponsored Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) on its promise to bring the jobs to the economically troubled Iron Range, but the company required an extension on repayment and another loan of $1.95 million, even after the incentives were extended.
Silicon Energy warned legislators it will go out of business without the incentives and the “Made in Minnesota” provision. It was caught in the post-2012 solar module manufacturing consolidation because its specialized product is costly while commodity-like Chinese modules have dropped drastically in price. Things worsened for the company in 2014 because a product defect forced a costly production shutdown and layoffs at its Mountain Iron factory.
Southern California backers are said to have given the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Senate Caucus $5,000, the DFL House Caucus $1,450, and Gov. Mark Dayton $3,000. Mountain Iron Rep. Jason Metsa reportedly got $2,500.
Solar advocates say Silicon Energy was a risky but worthwhile bet on a company and product with a future. The company claims its modules have unique structural integrity from tempered double-glass and an integrated mounting system that houses and hides all wiring while adding to the system’s safety and ease of maintenance.