* State support needed, but risks further public fallout
* California faces rivals in China and other U.S. states
By Braden Reddall
FREMONT, Calif., Oct 26 California political
leaders chose a site near the headquarters of Solyndra to kick
off hearings on how the state's growing cleantech industry can
proceed in the wake of that solar company's dramatic collapse.
The U.S. solar industry is especially reeling now that its
stand-out champion, First Solar Inc , just ousted its
boss and warned on profits in the face of the same stiff
Chinese competition that felled Solyndra.
Yet people who "had never supported cleantech" should not
be allowed to use Solyndra against the sector and its backers,
said Ellen Corbett, California's Senate majority leader, at the
meeting of executives and investors in Fremont on Wednesday.
She was echoed by Bob Wieckowski, a state assembly member
who said of the Solyndra bankruptcy filing last month: "I do
not believe it should be seen as a referendum on government
efforts" to promote clean energy.
There was, however, no escaping the ghost of Solyndra,
which won a $535 million U.S. loan guarantee to build a
now-dormant factory looming over a freeway not far from the
hearing at the headquarters of solar module maker Solaria.
"I don't want to pick on Solyndra, but it's good to learn
from the past," Solaria President Suvi Sharma said, arguing for
support of firms that rely less on subsidies. "The last thing
we want is more fallout from the public and the government.
But subsidies are an integral part of the game. Regulators
and industry boosters at the hearing heard from an investor in
one unidentified California solar company that was lured with a
$250 million loan to set up a joint venture in China.
"Putting these packages together is how everyone else
around the world is doing it," said Nancy Pfund, founding
partner of DBL Investors, a San Francisco venture capital fund
which manages $225 million and has backed firms including
BrightSource and SolarCity, two California-based firms.
California remains a solar power leader, with IHS iSuppli
estimating its installed solar capacity would be 1.2 gigawatts
next year -- more than the next six states combined. The Golden
State also accounts for a quarter of the 100,000 U.S. solar
jobs, a number expected to rise by 24,000 next year.
But Pfund said it faces tough competition from other states
such as Oregon and Mississippi, the latter having used
subsidies to attract six cleantech firms in the past year.