Potential Buyers Show Little Interest In Embattled Solyndra

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — A California solar panel manufacturer that received a half-billion dollar loan from the federal government has been unable to attract much interest in its operations and now hopes to sell its assets piecemeal.

Officials with Fremont, Calif.-based Solyndra LLC had hoped to sell the company to a buyer who would keep it operating. But it told a U.S. bankruptcy trustee on Tuesday that no qualified bidders have come forward.

Solyndra's chief restructuring officer, Todd Neilson, said the company had received only one bid.

"It was extremely low-ball," he explained. "It was mainly designed to take the equipment and the real estate at an extraordinarily low price."

Neilson said five potential bidders — mostly from other countries — are still conducting due diligence, and it's "highly unlikely" one will want to buy its whole operation.

"I would be pleasantly but seriously surprised if someone came in with a reasonable offer," he said.

Solyndra, which had said a sale of the company's assets in one lot was the best opportunity to maximize recoveries for creditors, is now looking at separate auctions for its machinery and equipment, real estate and intellectual property.

Neilson said Solyndra officials were disappointed, but not shocked, that a buyer has not emerged, even though the company's financial advisers contacted more than 100 prospective buyers. The bid deadline has been extended twice.

Solyndra representatives blamed the lack of interest on the economy, not the political fallout stemming from Solyndra's failure.

"It's a difficult economic environment. It's a difficult industry," Debra Grassgreen, a Solyndra bankruptcy attorney, said after a creditors meeting Tuesday morning.

Grassgreen told U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Mary Walrath at a hearing later Tuesday that Solyndra would seek the court's permission late Tuesday or Wednesday to auction off its machinery and equipment in late January if no acceptable bid is received by a Jan. 17 deadline.

Solyndra, which received a $528 million federal loan and was touted by the Obama administration as a "green jobs" creator, filed for bankruptcy court protection in September. The filing came several months after a February loan restructuring in which some $70 million borrowed from private investors got priority over $385 million in taxpayer money for repayment in the event of a default.

Under the February restructuring, the investment firms Argonaut Ventures and Madrone Partners LP stand to be repaid before U.S. taxpayers. Congressional leaders have said allowing private investors to move ahead of taxpayers for repayment may have been illegal.

Argonaut is an investment vehicle of the George Kaiser Family Foundation of Tulsa, Okla. The foundation is headed by Oklahoma billionaire George Kaiser, a major Obama campaign contributor and a frequent visitor to the White House.

Following its bankruptcy filing, Solyndra became the target of separate investigations by the FBI and congressional Republicans.

Testifying before a House committee last week, Energy Secretary Steven Chu defended the federal loan to Solyndra, but at the same time said he was unaware of many details about the loan or financial problems that Solyndra faced — including predictions by DOE staff two years ago that the company would likely face severe cash-flow problems.

Chu denied he was influenced by Kaiser, who invested $400 million in Solyndra. Kaiser has said he played no part in helping Solyndra win the 2009 loan, but emails released earlier this month show he discussed Solyndra with the White House at least once. Kaiser also directed business associates on how to approach the White House and the Energy Department to help Solyndra deal with its financial problems.

Chu denied anyone in the White House ever contacted him to make a political decision on the loan and said cheap imports from China, the collapse of the European market for solar panels, and other market changes led prices for Solyndra's product to fall.

While prospects for a takeover of Solyndra's operations appear dim, officials said an auction of the company's noncore assets, such as office equipment, went better than expected.

"Certain stuff, if you will, sold like hotcakes," Neilson said Tuesday, noting that corporate gear such as hats and T-shirts sold for more than what Solyndra paid for them.