Solar industry representatives meeting here this week for their trade association's conference at the Shoreham hotel will receive a gloomy report from the association.
The Solar Energy Industries Association is $91,000 in the red, according to the executive vice president, William S. Bergman.He denied rumors that the finances of the SEIA were so poor the association was on the verge of filing bankruptcy. But he admitted the association was in "financial difficulties."
This probably reflects the poor state of the industry itself. The association's members haven't made enough money to build up the strength and resources of their trade association.
SEIA has sent an assessment to all its members asking for more money and explaining the present problems. So far about half of the $24,000 asked for has been collected, Bergman said.
He claims most of SEIA's cash problem is due to the Department of Energy. He said the association had been part of DOE's effort to help the development of the solar industry, but after many delays the DOE has pulled back from one contract, on which SEIA was relying, and has called at a late stage for redrafting of another contract.
Many companies entered the solar industry in the expectation that the federal government would be giving substantial aid, in the form of subsidies and investment incentives, which would make it a profitable industry. In fact, the industry has received much less help than expected.
Bergman said last week that "all of the SEIA members understand that the business has not been as profitable as they had hoped and thought." But he said there was no "wholesale" move by the companies to get out of the industry. s
The $91,000 is in the form of members' dues that have been collected and used, but not on the services for which they were paid. Burgland named two particular projects on which the SEIA was losing money, in his view because of DOE.
A project to fund a traveling shopping center for solar goods, manned by people who could answer customers questions, had been "kicked around" by the government for about 30 months, Bergman said. The Solar Energy Industries Association would help to run the project. Bergman said they had done an "enormous amount" of advance work and spent a lot of money in anticipation of the contract. DOE had indicated that the contract would be signed last spring, Bergman said. But the project was finally called offf "two or three weeks ago" he said, leaving the SEIA short of between $40,000 and $50,000 it had spent in expectation of the agreement.
The department canceled the project because of a cut in its budget by Congress, Bergman said.
Asked why the association had spent the members' dues on a project for which it had not yet received a signed contract, Bergman said that it was necessary to assemble staff to begin work immediately, once the contract was signed.
SEIA also spent a lot of money on a project to collect basic statistics on the industry. It is hoping for DOE money for this, too.
DOE officials could not be reached for comment.
The 6-year-old association has an estimated 1,000 members representing 524 corporations. The organizer of this week's conference said 100 members are expected to attend.