Don't Trust Everything You Hear About Solar
Oct 17th 2011 7:10PM
Updated Oct 17th 2011 7:12PM
At the top of every article we write for The Motley Fool is our purpose stated for our readers to see. We intend "To Educate, Amuse & Enrich".
As our solar analyst, I take the education of our readers very seriously, and sometimes that means correcting the misinformation that seems to be everywhere in solar today. From combating overreacting and overarching comments like "solar is too expensive" to revealing the truth about solar subsidies, I've tried to put the solar industry's position into perspective. But the fallout from the Solyndra bankruptcy has brought on an assault of bad reporting, skewed perspective, and incorrect facts.
Look, Solyndra was a debacle from the start. It was high risk, low reward, and in a terrible strategic position compared with low-cost competitors such as First Solar (NAS: FSLR) , Trina Solar (NYS: TSL) , and Yingli Green Energy (NYS: YGE) .
But if you listen to Fox News, efficiency leader SunPower (NAS: SPWRA) is exactly the same as Solyndra, and so is its recently approved loan guarantee. Following are some of the myths Fox News is spreading, followed by some actual facts or clarifications for investors who should care about the difference.
Myth: "They're (SunPower) creating jobs not in the U.S., but in Mexico."
Fact: SunPower's loan guarantee is not for a manufacturing plant, like Solyndra was. It is for a utility-scale solar installation in the United States. Where those solar modules are made is irrelevant to the loan guarantee itself.
SunPower did say that most modules would be made in its Silicon Valley plant, but because of the project's size, facilities in Mexico and Asia would also provide modules.
Myth: "Another failing solar company."
Fact: Really? Not only is the guarantee not for SunPower directly, but SunPower is also one of the strongest companies in solar. Oil giant Total (NYS: TOT) made an investment in the company just a few months ago, and in fiscal 2011 SunPower had a net income of $179 million. The current market conditions create challenges, no doubt, but few companies are as well prepared to weather the storm as SunPower is.
Myth: "Lobbyist is the son of a congressman."
Clarifcation: Here is SunPower's response to this allegation, as reported by Greentechmedia: "George Miller IV [the son of a congressman] had no role in the loan guarantee or the California Valley Solar Ranch project and does not lobby in D.C. for SunPower. His firm -- Lang, Hansen, O'Malley, and Miller -- represents us in California."
I could go on and on, but you get the point. The demonizing of the solar sector has gone overboard, and investors need to make sure they're aware of the real facts.
The rest of the story
There are problems with the Department of Energy's loan-guarantee program but SunPower isn't part of those problems. Just as with First Solar, if the loan guarantee fell through, SunPower could probably find financing for the project. It would probably be slightly more expensive, but it probably would have been built.
It may make for popular headlines and flashy news stories to compare Solyndra with SunPower, but the facts just aren't there.
Interested in reading more about solar manufacturers? Add your favorites to My Watchlist, and My Watchlist will find all of our Foolish analysis on this stock.
- Add Yingli Green Energy Holding to My Watchlist.
- Add Trina Solar to My Watchlist.
- Add Total to My Watchlist.
- Add SunPower to My Watchlist.
- Add First Solar to My Watchlist.
At the time this article was published Fool contributor Travis Hoium owns shares of SunPower and First Solar. You can follow Travis on Twitter at @FlushDrawFool, check out his personal stock holdings or follow his CAPS picks at TMFFlushDraw.The Motley Fool owns shares of First Solar. Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Total and First Solar. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
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