Struggling SunEdison closing Houston-area plant, cutting 180 jobs

Financially troubled SunEdison said Thursday it will permanently shutter its manufacturing plant in Pasadena and eliminate 180 jobs as part of a plan to help restore the company’s stability.

SunEdison, the largest global renewable energy development company, has grown substantially in recent years but now finds itself dealing with potentially crippling debt as its stock has tanked.

The local manufactures polysilicon, a primary building block of solar panels. SunEdison blamed the closure largely on trade decisions made by China. The company said China recently imposed a 53.6 percent tariff on SunEdison’s polysilicon, pricing the American-made polysilicon out of the market. The plant has operated for more than 20 years.

SunEdison also said it will sell a Malaysian silicon wafer production facility, and “refocus” its Portland, Oregon operations into a research and development center.

SunEdison’s stock was trading at more than $30 a share in July, but it has been in a free fall since then. The stock started 2016 at about $5 a share and closed Thursday at just $1.51 per share, down 16 cents on the day.

“We believe our actions to re-engineer this business will maximize the value of our world-leading silicon production technologies, enabling SunEdison’s long term downstream growth and curtailing headwinds caused by trade actions and the commoditization of certain products,” CEO Ahmad Chatila said Thursday in a prepared statement.

SunEdison is still building a handful of solar and wind farms in West Texas and the Panhandle. The company is headquartered in Missouri with an operational base in Belmont, California near San Francisco.

In November, Chatila bemoaned the company’s recent financial woes and said he wanted the company to become “much more boring.” He said the company is focusing on improving its cash flow, cutting costs and growing along with the market, rather than continuing to outpace it. The company recently cut 15 percent of its workforce.

SunEdison has lost nearly $1 billion in net income through the first nine months of 2015. The company has not yet reported its fourth-quarter earnings.

SunEdison has grown quickly to build up its infrastructure and market share, but wind and solar power are only beginning to turn profits in some parts of the world. In two deals each nearly worth $2 billion, SunEdison recently bought First Wind Energy and it is in the process of buying Vivint Solar rooftop solar company, the latter of which is a deal widely criticized by many analysts for over-extending the company financially.

While Chatila said the deal will still move forward, he admitted in November that a series of deals in a short period of time have “really taken a toll.”

In Texas, SunEdison is currently building the two phases of the 500-megawatt South Plains Wind farm in Floyd County near Lubbock to be completed this year. The Route 66 Wind project was completed in the Texas Panhandle last year, but SunEdison sold a majority stake in it to J.P. Morgan Asset Management.

SunEdison also is building two solar farms in West Texas slated for completion this year — the 150-megawatt Buckthorn Solar project and the 116-megawatt Castle Gap solar farm.

SunEdison will sell the Castle Gap power to Dallas-based Luminant electric utility. The deal is touted as the largest in the country in which solar power is being bought to compete in a competitive wholesale marketplace with all other power generation.