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Nevada solar manufacturing plant closes

published: 2012-07-19 14:45

 A solar manufacturing plant in North Las Vegas that received millions of dollars in federal grant money closed Wednesday after only 14 months in operation.

Amonix, a company that designed and developed concentrated photovoltaic solar power systems, received a $15.6 million federal Department of Energy grant approved in 2007 and a separate $5.9 million tax credit from the Treasury Department in 2010 under the stimulus law.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported the company began selling equipment from its 214,000 square-foot facility Wednesday.

Amonix officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The project was hailed by politicians and economic development officials when it opened in May 2011.

Amonix CEO Brian Robertson died in a plane crash that December. In January the company announced 200 layoffs.

A DOE spokeswoman called the closure disappointing.

"The global solar industry is facing significant challenges that are impacting solar manufacturers worldwide," agency spokeswoman Jen Stutsman said in a statement. "Amonix, an innovative solar startup company with strong backing from Republicans as well as Democrats, received a tax credit to expand its American manufacturing operations and help ensure the U.S. continues to compete for the manufacturing jobs of the future.

"While today's news is disappointing, the United States simply can't afford to cede America's role in the growing, highly-competitive solar energy industry," Stutsman said.

News of the closure quickly became political fodder, especially in the heated Nevada U.S. Senate race between Republican Sen. Dean Heller and Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley.

"The news today highlights how Shelley Berkley's big-government spending solutions are failing at a time when Nevadans can least afford it," Heller's campaign spokeswoman Chandler Smith said in a statement. Heller voted against the stimulus package while serving in the House.

Berkley's campaign shot back.

"Shame on Sen. Dean Heller," said Xochitl Hinojosa, Berkley's campaign communications director, who said Heller was "rooting for failure" to bolster his political campaign. She also noted Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval also supported the Amonix project.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Amonix was unable to recover after Robertson's death.

"Some people will be tempted to use today's unfortunate news for political gain," Reid said. "But I am hopeful that the bipartisan support for his project and the public-private partnership that helped make this and many other projects possible will not be degraded by dirty energy supporters for their own profit or political gain."

Darren Littell, a Republican National Committee spokesman, said the company's failure is a reflection on President Barack Obama's economic policies.

"Nevadans want stable, long-term job security, and today's news is further proof that Obama doesn't understand how to fix the economy," Littell said.

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