(Review Journal) – The Amonix solar manufacturing plant in North Las Vegas, heavily financed under an Obama administration energy initiative, has closed its 214,000-square-foot facility 14 months after it opened.
Officials at Amonix headquarters in Seal Beach, Calif., have not responded to repeated calls for comment this week. The company today began selling equipment, from automated tooling systems to robotic welding cells.
A designer and manufacturer of concentrated photovoltaic solar power systems, Amonix received $6 million in federal tax credits and a $15.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to build the plant in North Las Vegas.
Rene Kenerly, a former material and supply manager at Amonix, said the plant has been idle since May 1, when he was laid off. At its peak, the plant had ramped up to about 700 employees working three shifts a day to produce solar panels for a utility customer in Amarosa, Colo., he said.
“I don’t think they had a lot of training,” Kenerly said. “There were a lot of quality issues. A lot of stuff was coming back because it had some functionality issues.”
The Amonix plant was highly touted by politicians and economic development officials when it opened in May 2011. Company executives said they would employ as many as 300 assembly line workers paid $12 to $14 an hour, plus benefits.
Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., and Gov. Brian Sandoval were among the political leaders who lauded the company when it announced it would start making solar cells in the Golden Triangle Industrial Park.
The company announced 200 layoffs in January, one month after Amonix chief executive officer Brian Roberts was killed in a plane crash in Pennsylvania.
“We are retooling to redeploy our next generation utility-scale CPV (concentrated photovoltaic) solar power system,” company spokeswoman Kelly Rice said in an e-mail at that time. “During this time, we will ramp down our facility to about 100 jobs, and will ramp back up based on the manufacturing build plan in second half of 2012.”
The company’s website describes Amonix as “the leading designer and manufacturer of concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) commercial solar power systems,” founded in 1989. It lists offices in Seal Beach, and “additional facilities” in Torrance, Calif., and North Las Vegas.
A hand-written sign posted at the shuttered plant Wednesday morning gave telephone numbers in California and Las Vegas for deliveries and inquiries. Amonix had a five-year lease on the site.
The North Las Vehas plant was a joint venture with Singapore’s Flextronics Industrial. Amonix founder and chairman Vahan Garboushian had estimated capital investment of $15 million in the plant, including equipment, construction and tenant improvements.
Mitchell Truman, president of Pan Western, a transportation service in North Las Vegas, said his company is owed about $60,000 for shipping costs related to Amonix and its partner, Cogentrics.
“I’ll never see that money,” Truman said.