Solar mirror firm faces fight over severance
By Thomas Olson
Published: Thursday, April 4, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Ten former employees of solar mirror manufacturer Flabeg Solar U.S. Corp. have petitioned a federal court to place the Clinton-based company into bankruptcy for not paying severance.
They and more than 60 other workers lost their jobs when the sprawling plant in Findlay Township shut down a couple of weeks ago, said Flabeg's attorney.
“The plant is mothballed for the moment,” said Robert Lampl. “They shut down because their German parent cut off funding.”
The parent company, Flabeg GmbH, opened the $30 million plant in the Clinton Commerce Park in Findlay Township in late 2009 hoping to take advantage of the emerging solar power industry worldwide — with the help of $9 million in job creation grants, loans and other financial aid from the state and Allegheny County.
The 228,000-square-foot plant, more than four football fields in size, is about one mile from Pittsburgh International Airport. It produced large solar collection mirrors whose parabolic shape concentrates and reflects solar rays into fluid-filled tubes. The resulting steam turns power turbines that produce electricity.
The plant was designed to produce as many as 600,000 units a year. At its peak late last year, the facility employed about 200 workers, said Lampl.
In 2009, Flabeg CEO Axel Bucholz said during an open house at the plant: “We believe that concentrated solar power will help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. It will be one of the energy providers of the future.”
The solar mirror plant is the largest in the world, he said.
“Most likely, (Flabeg) will convert this to a voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy,” said attorney Lampl. “The supposition is that somehow they will get back onstream.”
The plant is a highly automated operation that relies on robots to move 70-pound pieces of glass — about 51⁄2 feet long by 5-feet-4 inches tall and one-sixth-inch thick — through the production process. Edges of the glass, which is low in iron to allow more light to penetrate, are ground with diamond cutters.
If Flabeg sought, and the federal bankruptcy court granted, a change to a voluntary bankruptcy, the company would have more flexibility to continue operating.
Officials of Flabeg Solar, including Chief Executive Torsten Koehler, could not be reached.
Lampl said Flabeg does not dispute the 10 workers' claim for severance payments.
According to filings with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Pittsburgh, 10 employees seek a total of $197,294 in severance payments from the company.
“They were just told they were no longer employed there. It happened in the past week,” said Steven Shreve, an attorney who represents the former workers.
In addition to the Findlay plant, a Flabeg affiliate operated an auto and commercial vehicle mirror glass plant in Brackenridge. The plant, which employed as many as 160 people in 2008, was shut down last year.
Thomas Olson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7854 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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