NEW YORK (
) -- It's a rare day that Wall Street does solar investors a favor, and a rarer event when sanity dictates solar investing.
The failure of BrightSource Energy to go public for the second time in as many years shows though that rationality does exist in solar when push comes to shove. Or at least when a science project is peddled as an IPO-worthy company.
An old proverb applies to large-scale solar thermal project developer BrightSource Energy's latest failed bid to hawk its unproven wares on the investing public. Fail to go public once, shame on you. Fail twice, even more shame on you. Cite the "adverse market conditions," as BrightSource did on Thursday, and give me a break.
When I first found out that BrightSource was back on the road selling its solar thermal story last month, the immediate thought that came into my head -- a thought solar analysts with whom I spoke also pointed to -- was a comment made by
CEO Michael Ahearn during his recent conference call with analysts when asked about the outlook for the large-scale solar project market in the United States.
"New RFP solicitations in California...showed a pretty steep decline over the last couple of solicitation years. That's, I think, representative of the trend that new RFPs and PPA agreements...have declined pretty substantially, the pace of them," Ahearn said. "So the outlook is not for significant new solicitations or offtake agreements... shipments and installations...will continue to grow but as a function of agreements that have already been put into place during the last procurement cycle...We see the U.S. in terms of new additional solicitations and offtakes as being not nonexistent but sporadic and not at particularly high levels for the next several years."
Recently I was contacted by SolarReserve, another solar thermal project developer. The CEO of SolarReserve, Kevin Smith, wanted to talk specifically about the BrightSource deal. It's not typical that I get one CEO calling to talk about a competitor's pending deal.
The BrightSource deal also came on the heels of the bankruptcy of another solar company that had once been developing thermal projects, Solar Trust of America, which caused some big negative headlines for solar -- as well as some flat out misleading ones, such as the
article claiming Solar Trust had received a $2.1 billion loan guarantee from the Department of Energy.
I suspect that Smith had an inkling of what was coming. Translation: if the BrightSource deal went nowhere or went bad fast, Smith wanted to make sure SolarReserve was distinguished from BrightSource as a solar company, not that he said that in as many words during our conversation.
"BrightSource is one company and there is a substantial difference between them and others doing business in the sector," Smith told me a week before the BrightSource deal was supposed to price. "Whether they are or aren't successful won't change what we are doing. We have a different technology. They are doing what they need to do to meet current shareholder expectations and I can't hold that against them," Smith said.