Green-tech gets hit by layoffs

January 9, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Tough news hits Bay Area workers in an industry once-considered recession proof. Hundreds of green-tech employees found out on Friday they're being laid-off.

OptiSolar employees learned of their company's financial reality this week. The solar panel manufacturer will lay off 300 of its 600 employees.

"It's very painful. It's a bitter pill, unfortunately, the economy and the access to capital markets has left us with no choice," said Alan Bernheimer, OptiSolar's vice president.

OptiSolar says investors tightened their wallets after September, when the financial crisis really hit hard. The company needs millions to continue building a massive manufacturing plant in Sacramento.

"I thought they'd be one of the survivors because they have such a large amount of capital but I guess they probably spent a little too heavily on dreams," said Richard Helfrich, from Alameda Advisors Inc.

Richard Helfrich is a former investor in green technology and is now a venture capital advisor. He says financing for start ups, even in the ever popular solar industry, is harder than ever to get.

"There are over 100 solar start ups right now and I think there'll be a couple dozen that really survive," said Richard.

So far, Solar City is one of them. The 2-year-old Foster City-based installer needed to raise its final round of funding, by the end of the year.

"We were raising money in the heart of the collapse. It's an ugly market out there," said Lyndon Rive, from SolarCity.

While SolarCity successfully raised $30 million, Rive knows other companies in his industry are having a very hard time.

"It has to be an environmental benefit and it has to be a financial savings, if you don't offer both then you're going to struggle when dollars are tight," said Rive.

Those in the green industry hope President-elect Obama will help get investor dollars flowing again by offering incentives to help launch green energy start ups.