It would be impossible to trace all the ways taxpayer money ends up in the coffers of solar manufacturers like First Solar. Most of First Solar's money has been made selling panels in Germany to solar plants that, by law, can rape electricity customers with prices 10-15x higher than the market price for electricity. First Solar also benefits more directly from direct subsidies, loan guarantees, "retraining" subsidies and even government Ex-Im Bank loans to sell panels to itself. While First Solar vehemently denies it is a subsidy whore, it is telling that when Germany began to cut its solar feed-in tariffs, First Solar's stock price fell from over $300 to around $20. Just watch day to day trading of First Solar stock, it does not move on news about its efficiency or productivity, it moves on rumors of changes in government subsidies.
Let's look at one subsidy. In 2010, the Obama administration gave First Solar a subsidy of $16.3 million, ostensibly to help open a new plant in Ohio. But it is interesting that this private company, which apparently could only raise the $16.3 million it needed by taking it by force from taxpayers, had plenty of money to pay its CEO. In the 13 months leading up to its $16.3 million taken from taxpayers, First Solar paid its new CEO $29.85 million!
Rob Gillette, the ousted CEO of First Solar Inc., earned more than $32 million in compensation from the struggling company for his two years of service, according to a regulatory filing Wednesday.
Gillette came to First Solar from Phoenix-based Honeywell Aerospace in October 2009 and was fired by the Tempe-based solar company's board of directors in October 2011....
Most of his compensation came in the three months of 2009 that he worked, when his total compensation, including salary, bonus, stock and options awards and other perks, reached $16.55 million. In 2010 his total compensation was $13.3 million, and last year he earned $2.46 million, which consisted of $763,000 in base salary and a $1.7 million severance.
Yep, they can't scrape up $16.3 million of their own money for a factory but they can find $30 million to give to an unproven CEO they eventually had to ride out on a rail.
By the way, I don't know Mr. Gillette, but I was once an executive at Honeywell Aerospace for several years. I can tell you that it's a great place to find an executive who is focused on process to manage large complex organizations in a relatively stable business where manufacturing, logistics, and schmoozing large buyers is important. It is a terrible, awful place to seek an executive for a fast growing business that needs to rapidly shift business strategies and where grinding through the process gets the wrong answer 12 months too late.