Solyndra is rising from the ashes of bankruptcy to fight back against the companies it believes caused its business to fold – the three biggest Chinese solar manufacturers.
Solyndra filed a $1.5 billion antitrust suit against Suntech Power Holdings (NYSE: STP), Trina Solar (NYSE: TSL) and Yingli Green Energy (NYSE: YGE).
The suit accuses the three companies of conspiring to fix prices with an aim of putting US solar companies out of business, noting that their US prices dropped 75% in tandem over a period of four years.
Solyndra’s litigation also names an energy trade association, the Chinese government and some component suppliers to Suntech, Trina and Yingli as defendants in the antitrust suit.
When Solyndra filed for bankruptcy in August 2011, its executives testified that cheap Chinese solar panels caused it lose $1.2 billion in business that it announced in 2008.
Those contracts helped Solyndra win a $535 million federal loan guarantee under the Department of Energy’s renewable energy program.
According to Solyndra, Suntech, Trina and Yingli found its advanced copper gallium selenide (CIGS) technology to be such a threat to their own conventional technology that they conspired to put it out of business, reports Forbes.
Forbes quotes the court filing:
“Solyndra’s better solar panel system, with its lower cost of installation, created a barrier to defendants’ complete domination of the market – so long as Solyndra, and its technology, was available in the market, defendants would not have been able to dominate the commercial and industrial rooftop market.”
Among other things, the lawsuit claims that the three companies met regularly at trade group forums to coordinate pricing and to flood the US market rather than sell in China. Solyndra even alleges conspiracy by one of its Germany customers, GeckoLogic, reports Forbes.
“As part of a Solyndra beta system, GeckoLogic installed Solyndra panels on a rooftop in Germany and a webcam was setup to monitor the performance of the Solyndra panels. At some point after installation of the panels and webcam, the webcam stopped transmitting data back to Solyndra. Solyndra later learned that Yingli had interfered with Solyndra’s agreement and installed its panels on GeckoLogic’s roof – all of which was kept secret from Solyndra.”
The suit also alleges the companies benefited from Chinese bank loans at below-market rates. Those loans were rolled over from year to year in an “extend and pretend” scheme that gave them an unfair market advantage because the Chinese companies didn’t have to make good on their debts, reports Forbes.
The three companies named in the suit all intend to fight it.
“We just received notice of this complaint, but from our initial review, these are unwarranted and misguided claims from a company that has a clear history of failed technology and achievements,” says Robert Petrina, managing director of Yingli Green Energy Americas.
Suntech’s initial reaction is similar, suggesting that Solyndra is looking to place blame for its failure on its competitors.
“Though we are continuing to review the complaint, it is obvious that this lawsuit is a misguided effort by Solyndra to find scapegoats for its failure to commercialize its technology at a competitive price point,” says Suntech managing director E.L. McDaniel. “As a global company and an American solar manufacturer, we are proud of the work we have done to make solar affordable for millions of Americans and people around the world.
Solyndra filed the suit on the heels of the US Department of Commerce’s decision to finalize antidumping tariffs on Chinese solar manufacturers. Suntech faces tariffs of 36%, Trina (24%) and Yingli (31%).
Solyndra’s suit alleges that more than a dozen US solar manufacturers have gone bankrupt or are struggling because of Chinese companies.
Although Suntech, Trina and Yingli were among the top five solar panel makers in the world in 2011, they too are struggling right now.
Last week, the company announced a five-pronged strategy toward recovery, including cutting production – part of its response to “navigate trade protectionism.”