By Denver Business Journal

President Barack Obama on Saturday announced that Colorado thin-film solar panel manufacturer Abound Solar Inc. will get a conditional $400 million loan guarantee under the federal stimulus program to support expanded manufacturing.

Loveland-based Abound ( website here), spun off from Colorado State University in 2007, has been held up as an example by federal and state officials of how commercialization of clean-energy technology can fuel the economic recovery -- and it has benefitted from substantial government support, including stimulus funds and tax subsidies.

But Saturday's announcement by Obama was much larger than earlier pledges of government support for Abound, and the fact that it was announced personally by the president lent drama to the commitment.

In his weekly radio address to the nation Saturday, Obama said Abound "will manufacture advanced solar panels at two new plants, creating more than 2,000 construction jobs and 1,500 permanent jobs.

"A Colorado plant is already under way," the president added, referring to Abound's Longmont factory, "and an Indiana plant will be built in what's now an empty Chrysler factory. When fully operational, these plants will produce millions of state-of-the-art solar panels each year."

The Indiana plant is in Tipton. Local officials there reportedly offered Abound $13 million in incentives to move into the vacant Chrysler plant.

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Abound Solar started in 2007 as AVA Solar. Its goal has been to commercialize the process for manufacturing thin-film power-generating photovoltaic (PV) modules, which can be made more cheaply than standard PV units.

It opened its production plant in Longmont in April 2009, and its research and development lab is in Fort Collins. It also has an office in Munich, Germany.

"Abound Solar is a New Energy Economy success story," Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter said in a statement Saturday. " ... Abound is already a job-creation engine in Colorado and this [stimulus] loan guarantee will translate to more jobs, cleaner energy and bolster our standing as a hub of clean energy entrepreneurialism."

The new federal support is in the form of a conditional-commitment offer from the U.S. Department of Energy for a $400 million loan guarantee under the stimulus program, known formally as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The guarantee is intended to free up capital for Abound's production of thin PV panels using advanced cadmium-telluride semiconductor technology by reassuring lenders.

"Without the loan guarantees, they would not be able to really move forward on this project," U.S. Rep. Betsy Markey, D- Fort Collins, told the Fort Collins Coloradoan. "It's seed money that's going to be fully paid back by Abound."

Abound applied for the loan guarantee more than a year ago, and Markey and other members of Colorado's congressional delegation pushed for approval, the Coloradoan reported.

In May 2009, Ritter hand-delivered a letter to U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu supporting the loan-guarantee applications by Abound while Chu was in Golden touring the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), which his department oversees.

"This project is yet another example [of] what the Recovery Act has done in communities across the country in creating the new, clean energy jobs of the future,⿝ Chu said in a statement Saturday. ⿿By supporting new cutting-edge solar manufacturing technologies, we are advancing a diverse renewable energy portfolio while helping to position the U.S. at the forefront of the global green economy.⿝

Pascal Noronha, then-CEO of Abound Solar, met with Obama at the White House in March 2009 as part of a group discussing clean energy.

In the early 1990s, CSU professor W.S. Sampath and colleagues Al Enzenroth and Kurt Barth began to investigate low-cost photovoltaics in Sampath's materials-engineering lab at CSU -- work that led to the spinoff of AVA Solar, with support from NREL.

In January, Abound secured $12.6 billion in federal stimulus tax credits to help it expand production capacity with an additional manufacturing line.

In March, energy giant Chevron Corp. announced it would test solar technologies from Abound and six other companies as part of its "Project Brightfield" project to evaluate which panels it might use at company-owned facilities, the San Francisco Business Times reported.

In June, CSU announced that Sampath will head a new solar-power research-and-development center at the Fort Collins university, called the National Science Foundation Industry and University Cooperative Research Program.

Also Saturday, Obama announced a $1.45 billion loan guarantee for Abengoa Solar Inc. for a planned solar generation plant near Gila Bend, Ariz. Obama called it "one of the largest solar plants in the world."

Abengoa Solar is a Spanish company that has its U.S. headquarters in Lakewood.

With the loan guarantee, Abengoa could have the project under development by the end of the year, Patrick O'Grady of the Phoenix Business Journal reports.

⿿This conditional guarantee could allow us to start construction of Solana this year,⿝ said Abengoa CEO Santiago Seage in a statement. ⿿I want to recognize the leadership and effort of the DOE in making Solana possible through this guarantee.⿝

Separately, Xcel Energy Inc. announced earlier this week that it has started operating an experimental power plant, called Cameo, which uses both solar power and coal to produce electricity near Grand Junction. Cameo will test the use of parabolic-trough mirrors designed by Abengoa Solar as part of a heating system to produce steam.

The Energy Department's loan-guarantee program stems from the Energy Policy Act of 2005, a program that languished until the advent of the Obama administration as Chu pushed to get the money out the door.

Click here for the text of President Obama's address and to watch a video of his announcement.

And click here for information on the Energy Department's loan guarantee program.

Copyright 2010 American City Business Journals

Copyright 2010