News Column

Bargain Hunters Flock to BlueChip Energy Sale

July 17, 2013
Solar panels (file image)
Solar panels (file image)

On paper, the assets of failed solar company BlueChip Energy may have been worth $19 million, but Tuesday's auction brought bargain-basement prices.

Bidders fetched pallets of solar panels, laminators, conveyors, assembly lines and other manufacturing equipment at liquidation prices not likely to repay the millions of dollars owed by BlueChip.

The biggest-ticket item -- a solar farm of 5,400 panels installed on the roof of BlueChip's Lake Mary facilities -- was once valued at $7 million but sold for $160,000. The buyer was the building's landlord, Abbas Abdul, who bought the panels hoping to recoup some of the money he lost in unpaid rent.

One bidder, David Wilson, eyed an aluminum framing table that sold for a couple hundred dollars.

"A table like this would normally be worth $5,000 and I'm sure you could sell it for scrap for more than what it was sold," Wilson said. "That's insane."

All the items were sold as part of a federal court case related to BlueChip's biggest debt, $2.5 million owed to a subsidiary of SunTrust.

BlueChip Energy, which also operated under the name Advanced Solar Photonics, had an ambitious plan to manufacture solar panels in Lake Mary. Solar panels were installed on its roof to power the plant, and BlueChip wanted to build the state's largest solar farm in Lake County.

However, federal and state court records show BlueChip has failed financially, leaving millions in debt to its former employees, suppliers and at least two banks.

One of the biggest problems were the solar panels themselves, which had been sold and marked with a counterfeit label from UL (Underwriters Laboratories). Without the industry-required safety approval from UL, the panels can't be used to produce electricity and send it to the power grid, as prospective buyers had intended.

That made most of the panels, including the 5,400 on the roof, worthless for most installations.

Still, there were plenty of buyers interested in the panels, as well as the equipment used to make them, at Tuesday's auction.

More than 50 people attended the live event, held at the company's Rinehart Road location. Another 101 bidders vied for items online, said Eric Rubin, the auctioneer and vice president of Moecker Auctions.

Prospective buyers browsed abandoned desks and a cavernous warehouse of idle machinery. Unfinished solar panels sat on the tables, seemingly left there to be completed by the next shift of workers. The desk of the former manufacturing manager stood, with notes and documents still strewn on the desk top and small change rolling around in the drawers.

No bidder stepped up to buy all the equipment in bulk. One of the most valued pieces of equipment -- a machine that could precisely assemble the solar cell lines -- was bought for $70,000 by an online bidder in Pennsylvania.

Yet most of the items fetched a few hundred dollars apiece. Massive assembly machines, about the size of an average bathroom, were bought for a couple thousand.

"The big machines go for practically nothing because they're so specialized, that they're only worth for scrap," said Cameron Winfrey, a bidder from Sanford. "Unfortunately, that's what happens in a very specialized industry like this."

llelis@tribune.com or 386-479-1529

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(c)2013 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

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Source: Copyright Orlando Sentinel 2013


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