Helios couldn’t secure working capital

Milwaukee-based solar panel manufacturer Helios USA has closed, and about 24 employees have been laid off.

The company filed for receivership in Milwaukee County Circuit Court last week. Judge Paul Van Grunsven named Milwaukee Attorney Michael Polsky the receiver for the Menomonee Valley company, according to court filings.

Leaders at Helios, which manufactures mono-crystalline solar modules, had often expressed concerns about competition with lower-priced products imported by Chinese solar panel manufacturers.

The company opened in 2009 with funding from private equity, bank loans and government financing. It began producing solar panels in 2011.

Wisconsin’s now-defunct Department of Commerce provided a $1.3 million loan to Helios in 2009 as part of the state energy loan program.

The loan is now administered by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, which recently issued a past due notice for $116,951, according to Tom Thieding, WEDC corporate communications manager. The payment was due August 1.

The Milwaukee Economic Development Corporation provided a $650,000 loan to Helios, of which $380,000 is still outstanding, according to Jeff Fleming, Department of City Development spokesman.

Polsky shuttered Helios and laid off about 24 employees who remained, according to David Latona, executive vice president of the MEDC.

He will now assess the assets and debts of the company, then put it up for sale in some form.

“He basically controls the assets of the entity, and he has to market them,” Latona said. “He has to basically sit down and do an analysis and determine what’s the best strategy for the business.”

MEDC and other creditors will then have the right of first refusal on any sale, he said.

“We were in contact with them when they were contemplating going into receivership,” Latona said. “They were short working capital and we were working with them to try to find that working capital. The ownership group, the investors that originally put money into it, didn’t want to put any more money into it, and so they didn’t have any option except to go into receivership.”

It’s possible Helios could reopen, but unlikely because several other solar manufacturers have recently closed due to the Chinese competition issue, he said.

The City of Milwaukee has experienced unprecedented growth in its solar market over the last several years, with 25 new solar installations occurring in just the past three months, said Amy Heart, solar program manager for the City of Milwaukee’s Office of Environmental Sustainability.

“It’s of course unfortunate news and we’re very thankful that Helios was able to start its company here in Milwaukee a number of years ago and for its support of the local solar industry,” Heart said.

Helios was one of more than 150 companies in southeastern Wisconsin that are part of the solar supply chain, she said.

“We’re happy as a city that we are a part of this solar industry on a national level, which is booming,” Heart said. “While there is consolidation of smaller companies within the industry, from my perspective, that is expected in this industry.”

Helios was chosen as the solar panel supplier for a large scale installation underway at the Milwaukee Public Museum, but the project has not yet reached the installation phase. It is unclear whether Helios will still supply the panels.

Polsky and company leaders did not reply to requests for comment.

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