Mississippi could sue solar panel maker that owes $74.8M
By JEFF AMY
Oct. 21, 2017
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi officials are considering whether to sue a solar panel maker that recently announced it will be closing its Hattiesburg plant, which had received millions in loans and incentives from the state.
Mississippi Development Authority spokeswoman Tammy Craft said the authority has referred the case to Attorney General Jim Hood, a step the agency has taken previously when talks between a company and the state break down.
Frank Yang, a spokesman for Stion, says the company owes Mississippi the entire $74.8 million it borrowed, although he says Stion has paid $11 million in interest.
The San Jose, California company notified the Mississippi Department of Employment Security on Tuesday that it plans to close its plant Dec. 13, laying off 137 employees.
Yang has said that Stion is trying to sell the factory to a buyer who will run it. Sale proceeds would go to creditors, a possible alternative to a bankruptcy filing.
"We continue to work collaboratively with the creditors to find an acceptable sale however because of the complex nature of the assignment process, legal expertise is being actively used by all sides," Yang wrote in an email Friday.
Craft didn't respond to an email seeking more information about the status of any talks between Mississippi and Stion. A spokeswoman for Hood said Friday she had no information about Stion.
Stion raised more than $200 million from private investors, in addition to Mississippi's loan. It promised 1,000 jobs in Hattiesburg when it announced its plans in 2011. But the company was already struggling in 2013 when venture capital firm Khosla Ventures took a controlling interest. That's the same company that was the lead investor in KiOR, whose biofuel failure sparked an ongoing lawsuit Hood filed in state court. The state argues that top KiOR officials defrauded Mississippi officials, failing to disclose problems with its technical ability to convert wood into the equivalent of crude oil.
Mississippi lost $77 million when KiOR closed its $230 million Columbus plant.
Stion blames its closure on unfair foreign competition, and says that if President Donald Trump imposes anti-dumping tariffs on foreign solar panel makers, it might be able to sell the Hattiesburg plant. Foreign producers sometimes start making products in the United States when hit by such penalties.
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