Solyndra, the bankrupt Fremont solar-panel maker that received a $535 million U.S. government loan guarantee, filed a blockbuster lawsuit this week that accused Suntech and other Chinese panel makers of driving it out of business by running an illegal cartel.
Solyndra, which filed for bankruptcy protection in August 2011, is seeking compensation "for the loss of the $1.5 billion value of its business and more which defendants destroyed," according to a complaint filed Thursday in San Francisco federal court.
The defendants schemed with each other, raw material suppliers and certain lenders to flood the U.S. market with solar panels at below-cost prices, the company said in its complaint. Panel prices for Wuxi, China-based Suntech, the biggest solar-panel maker, and two other companies moved in tandem, falling 75 percent in four years in the U.S. market, Solyndra said.
"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," E. L. "Mick" McDaniel, managing director of Suntech America, said in an email. The allegations are "baseless" and Suntech will fight them, he said.
U.S. solar-energy manufacturers have said they were forced to close plants and fire workers because of unfair Chinese government policies. The Commerce Department on May 17 announced preliminary duties ranging from 31 percent to 250 percent on imports of Chinese-made solar cells, after determining that the products were sold in the U.S. below cost.
Solyndra was forced to shut down operations and fire most of its 1,100 workers on Aug. 31, 2011. The solar-panel maker listed $854.1 million in assets and $867.1 million in debt in court papers filed Oct. 31.
The company's collapse prompted congressional scrutiny of President Barack Obama, who praised Solyndra during a May 2010 tour of its facilities. It was the first company to receive a loan guarantee under Obama's stimulus program.
Suntech, Trina Solar and Yingli Green Energy raised money from American investors by selling depositary shares to destroy U.S. competitors such as Solyndra, according to the complaint. From 2008 to 2011, the Chinese companies "coincidentally" cut prices, forcing Solyndra and other U.S. solar-panel makers to follow suit, Solyndra claimed.
The companies met regularly at trade group forums to coordinate their pricing and agreed to flood the U.S. market rather than sell in China, according to the complaint. An energy trade association, China's energy administration, Chinese banks and Chinese polysilicon manufacturers are named as co-conspirators in the lawsuit.
The complaint seeks a judgment declaring the Chinese companies' conduct was an illegal conspiracy to fix prices and create a monopoly and damages of at least $1.5 billion.