SunPower, First Solar close on sale of yieldco 8point3


The story of yieldco 8point3 Energy Partners is coming to a conclusion. Born as the result of a tryst between two large solar companies that never really saw eye to eye and had other priorities, it experienced a promising but ultimately troubled youth, and is now wed to a conservative, stable asset manager. Any rumors that it has moved to the suburbs have not been substantiated.

Yesterday SunPower and First Solar closed on the sale of their respective shares of 8point3 Energy Partners to Capital Dynamics, as revealed in SEC filings. First Solar received $240 million from the sale, and SunPower $360 million.

The sale of 8point3 comes as both companies have moved away from project development and back to their original mission of manufacturing. Both First Solar and SunPower are expanding their manufacturing in different ways, which inevitably burns through cash, although the circumstances of each are different.

First Solar is currently in the midst of a billion-dollar retooling of its factories to produce the new, large-format Series 6. Along with this, it is expanding its capacity at two new factories in Vietnam and a new 1.2 GW plant in Ohio, which broke ground earlier this month.

All of this activity is expensive, and First Solar has burned through nearly 1.3 billion in cash during the last three quarters. However, at the end of the first quarter the company was still sitting on a war chest of $1.9 billion in cash and equivalents to fund its ongoing work.

SunPower is in a very different situation. Despite its technological successes, even before the Section 201 tariffs the company had been consistently unable to turn a profit. SunPower was down to $261,000 in cash and equivalents at the end of Q1, and has chosen to quit its utility-scale development activities and sell off its microinverter business to Enphase.

As such, for SunPower the sale of 8point3 brings in much-needed cash. The funds have already been committed to pay off a bridge loan that SunPower secured from a French bank a month ago. This in turn allowed SunPower to pay off convertible loan certificates, much of which were held by its majority owner, Total.

While the bridge loan was for only $300 million in principal, it is unclear how much will be left over after SunPower pays for interest and fees. But this is not the end of SunPower’s financial obligations, as it is planning to acquire SolarWorld Americas’ Oregon factory for an undisclosed price.

As for 8point3, its shares will no longer be traded on the NASDAQ, and shareholders received only $12.48 per share. This was a bitter pill for independent shareholders, and the company’s stock price collapsed in early February on the news of the terms.

At last count 8point3 held 946 MW-AC of U.S. solar projects, the vast majority of which were utility-scale and located in California.

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