Solar power startup Ausra looks to sell itself

LOS ANGELES Fri Nov 13, 2009 9:41pm EST

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Kleiner Perkins and Khosla Ventures-backed solar thermal start-up Ausra Inc is in talks to sell itself with three potential buyers, two sources familiar with the company told Reuters on Friday.

The buyers could take a majority stake or snag the whole company and the discussions are at a "very aggressive level", said one source familiar with the company, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Both sources said the interested companies were global conglomerates in the power generation business but declined to name them. The companies already have various power products, such as steam and gas turbines, and are committed to renewable energy. One interested party has engaged with Ausra previously, one source said.

Ausra declined to comment.

A sale of the high profile Silicon Valley start-up that has raised $130 million in venture capital would add to a string of recent deals and growing consolidation in the solar power industry.

Chinese solar wafer manufacturer ReneSola Ltd plans to buy Dynamic Green Energy Ltd while silicon maker MEMC Electronic Materials Inc plans to acquire privately-held SunEdison, which installs, maintains and finances commercial solar systems.

Privately held Ausra, which is based in Mountain View, California, launched as a solar thermal developer in 2006, when solar power and other clean technology were luring venture capitalists.

Two years ago the company landed a power purchasing agreement with California utility PG&E, a unit of PG&E Corp for a 117 megawatt solar thermal plant. Solar thermal plants use the sun's rays to heat liquid to create steam, which drives turbines and generates electricity.

Earlier this year, the company switched tracks, saying it would move away from developing projects and focus on supplying large-scale solar steam generators.

This month Ausra said that it canceled its agreement with PG&E and sold the project's land to the largest U.S. solar power company, thin film photovoltaic First Solar Inc.

Ausra also has deals in Jordan and Australia and other investors include Starfish Ventures and KERN Partners.

One source familiar with the company said that "extensive work" has been done at various stages of completion with the interested buyers.

"We're talking about meetings with dozens of people involved," said the person, who also was not authorized to speak publicly about the discussions.

(Reporting by Laura Isensee; Editing Bernard Orr)

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