Posted: 11 Dec 2011 07:40 AM PST
The list goes on. In the mid-2000s, US investment banks embarked on schemes with fledgling Chinese solar PV manufacturers that ushered their shares on to US stock exchanges and into the portfolios of US investors.
Getting there involved some creative, but well-worn and lucrative legal footsteps, including establishing off-shore holding companies in tax havens such as the Cayman Islands, where the solar PV manufacturers are insulated from having to comply with the normal, standard financial accounting and disclosure rules required for companies listed on US stock exchanges. It’s a bit of financial market forensics that the Pittsburgh Tribune’s Lou Kilzer maps out on TribLive.
In a classic boom-and-bust cycle, solar PV panel prices have plummeted some 40% in the past year. Having borrowed hugely thanks to Chinese government largesse, US investors have helped fuel the rapid expansion of China’s solar PV manufacturers by buying up their US exchange-listed American Depositary Receipts (ADRs).
With their profit margins squeezed to the bone, Chinese solar PV manufacturers – like their US and European counterparts – are now suffering the consequences of unrestrained borrowing and investment in capacity expansion. Industry analysts anticipate a much less populated Chinese solar PV manufacturing sector in the near future.
Speculative Solar Bubble
Along with centrally controlled and coordinated Chinese government subsidization of solar PV manufacturers, raising equity capital via US stock exchanges has been one of the key elements that’s led to a dramatic, 40% fall in the price of solar PV panels, not only in the US, but worldwide. The rapid increase in production of solar-grade polysilicon – the raw material for fabricating solar PV cells – has been another.
Consumers have been the beneficiaries, at least over the short-term. Solar PV manufacturers in the US, Europe and elsewhere are pressured and threatened enough to have filed an dumping complaint that’s making its way through the US International Trade Commission (ITC) and Commerce Dept. As for those who have invested in the ADRs of Chinese solar PV companies, well, they’re not so happy either.
As Kilzer reports, the initial investor euphoria over US exchange-listed Chinese solar PV manufacturers has given way to consternation and anger, as well as some lawsuits. Washington DC attorney Herbert Milstein filed a class-action lawsuit against LDK Solar after a company insider blew the whistle on possible fraudulent accounting practices.
Fueling LDK’s rapid rise to becoming one of the world’s largest solar PV manufacturers were billions of dollars in Chinese government subsidies and equity capital raised from investors in its US exchange-listed ADRs. Today, LDK’s on the verge of bankruptcy.
Investors Left Holding the Bag
In his class-action lawsuit, Milstein represented 2,409 claimants who lost more than $300 million almost overnight as a result of the possible fraudulent accounting becoming public. The out-of-court settlement totaled $16, $6 million of which was paid by an insurance company, Kilzer reports.
“Everything old is new again,” the saying goes. Some of the biggest investment booms and busts in world financial history have come about as a result of the fascination of investors in comparatively capital-rich countries with investing overseas. European and US investors have a long history of latching on to overseas investment themes, and sharp operators at US investment banks have gladly taken advantage of that. They profited greatly from paving the way for China’s PV manufacturers to raise capital through US stock exchanges.
US investors are now left holding the bag, but they and their attorneys are calling for the SEC to close the loophole that’s allowed this latest Wall Street concocted speculative boom and bust to occur in the first place.
At the Milstein-led lawsuit’s settlement conference in June, 2010, U.S. Northern District of California Judge William Alsup called the path to US stock exchange listing Wall St. investment banks led Chinese solar PV manufacturers “a giant loophole,” according to Kilzer’s report.
Posted: 10 Dec 2011 07:31 PM PST
This week, Statoil has an application for a pilot demonstration of their Hywind floating wind turbine 12 miles off the coast of Maine before the new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for approval. The demo would be the fruition of a project begun in 2009, and funded by the Department of Energy.
Then Maine Governor John Baldacci had visited Norway to inspect Statoil's Hywind floating turbine project with state and university officials and business leaders and encouraged Statoil to consider his state for deep-water testing of the commercial floating wind turbine technology in the Gulf of Maine. A return visit introduced Norway’s Statoil to turbine construction expertise in Maine, visiting the Vinalhaven wind turbines on the Fox Islands constructed by Cianbro.
Maine is a good site for the test, with deep coastal waters conducive to testing floating technologies and the University of Maine, with its DeepCWind Consortium and the public/private partnership at its Advanced Structures and Composites Center.
The University of Maine had been the recipient of an $8 million federal grant in 2009 from the Department of Energy for wind energy research, with up to $5 million in addition subsequently. Four pilot sites off the coast of Maine were under consideration.
Pilot programs of ocean enrgy technology typically cost much more than $8 million. The inventor of the Waveroller told me in Finland that full scale pilot tests can be at least $100 million. As in all manufacturing industries; that “first sample” can cost as much as ten times as much to produce as the same thing on a production line.
However, because Statoil already has a prototype of its Hywind floating turbine operating since last summer off the coast of Norway, this second one can be built for much less, even though, for the US, it would be a “pilot” project. Norway’s Statoil is the world leader in floating wind turbine development, so Maine made frugal use of DOE funds, getting a very big bang for the buck. There is another reason it is a good investment. Turbines have to be constructed nearby. It is not an import industry.
Maine has the skilled industrial employees ready and willing to work, who currently work for local companies such as Bath Iron Works and Cianbro, the turbine manufacturer that built the wind farm that delivers 100% of the electricity for Vinalhaven, one of the Fox Islands off the coast. Although Norway’s Statoil and Germany’s Siemens brought the expertise to the US, it is US workers that will benefit if the application is approved, the test is a success and offshore wind potential gets harnessed to provide clean energy here.
In this way, one of the smaller investments of the 2009 Recovery Act might in fact wind up unleashing one of the bigger results. Most of the world’s offshore wind is already a maturing industrial sector in Europe, with a staggering 141 GW of offshore wind in the pipeline.
In Europe offshore wind projects are going forward with turbines attached to the sea floor which limits suitable wind farm locations, and Europe is already up against those limits.
But the partnership between Statoil and the University of Maine on the floating model could instead yield a new kind of offshore wind industry in the US, starting from scratch with floating wind farms rather than attaching the turbines to the sea floor, opening up much more useful ocean territory to energy production, regardless of depths.
Because of greater ability to access stronger and more consistent winds deeper out at sea, floating turbines are possibly more economically efficient in the long term. Despite having had to learn from European companies to get started, the US could thus take offshore wind in a whole new direction and greatly expand it.
(Previous: EU Invades US for Energy Resource.)
|You are subscribed to email updates from CleanTechnica |
To stop receiving these emails, you may unsubscribe now.
|Email delivery powered by Google|
|Google Inc., 20 West Kinzie, Chicago IL USA 60610|