First Solar whacks global workforce by 30%

First Solar Inc., Tempe, Ariz., once a shining star in the solar space, announced last month that it was cutting its global workforce by 30%, about 2,000 positions, “in response to deteriorating market conditions in Europe and to reduce costs and align its organization with sustainable market opportunities.” A press release announcing the move said First Solar will close its manufacturing operations in Frankfurt (Oder), Germany, in the fourth quarter of 2012 and that the company will indefinitely idle four production lines at its manufacturing center in Kulim, Malaysia, on May 1. The company will also reduce personnel in Europe and the United States.

In the press release announcing the move Mike Ahearn, chairman and interim CEO, said, “After a thorough analysis, it's clear the European market has deteriorated to the extent that our operations there are no longer economically sustainable, and maintaining those operations is not in the best long-term interest of our stakeholders.

“The solar market has fundamentally changed, and we are quickly adapting our market approach and operations to maintain and build upon our competitive advantage. After a period of robust growth, First Solar is scaled to operate at higher volumes than currently exist following the reduction of subsidies in key legacy markets. As a result, it's essential that we reduce production and decrease expenses to reflect the smaller volume of high-probability demand we forecast. These actions will enable us to focus our resources on developing the markets where we expect to generate significant growth in coming years.”

In other news at FirstSolar, earlier this month the company and MidAmerican Solar started construction at the massive Topaz Solar Farms, located in San Luis Obispo County, Calif. The 550MW photovoltaic project will employ approximately 400 workers during its three-year construction period. When complete, the Topaz project will be the largest solar electric power plant in the world, providing enough energy to power approximately 160,000 average California homes.

First Solar was a Wall Street darling when it topped $300 per share in 2008. But since that time, its stock has tumbled to less than $18 per share at press-time.

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