A Bay State solar panel developer that landed a state loan from Mitt Romney when he was Massachusetts governor has gone belly up — a day after the GOP presidential hopeful ripped President Obama’s green-energy investments.
Lowell-based Konarka Technologies announced late yesterday that it filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection and will cease operations, lay off its 85 workers and liquidate.
“Konarka has been unable to obtain additional financing, and given its current financial condition, it is unable to continue operations,” CEO Howard Berke said in a statement. “This is a tragedy for Konarka’s shareholders and employees and for the development of alternative energy in the United States.”
The demise of Konarka could become a hot topic on the campaign trail because Romney personally doled out a $1.5 million renewable energy subsidy to the Lowell startup in 2003, shortly after taking office on Beacon Hill.
And on Thursday the GOP candidate was stumping outside the shuttered Solyndra solar-panel factory in California, blasting the Obama administration’s $535 million loan as a symbol of “crony capitalism.”
“If Romney gets a little bit of heat because he participated in some of these policies at a point in time, it’s all fair in the world of politics,” said state Sen. Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton). “He’s criticizing on one hand, he’s got to take criticism on the other.”
A Romney spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment.
In its 11-year history, Konarka collected a total of $20 million in government research grants, along with $170 million in private capital. The company makes thin, flexible solar panels that its customers build into other products such as deck umbrellas, backpacks and portable chargers.
Konarka has fallen into the same bankruptcy shadow cast by Bay State clean-energy crashes Evergreen Solar and Beacon Power, both backed by controversial taxpayer subsidies.
Berke indicated in Konarka’s announcement that he hasn’t given up hope that a “rescue financing or acquisition” would materialize during the bankruptcy proceedings. He noted “worldwide interest in the company, including from the Chinese government” — whose subsidies for its solar industry prompted the Obama administration earlier this month to impose punishing tariffs.
Berke, who was not available for comment, founded Konarka in 2001 with Nobel Prize-winning chemist Alan Heeger and a team of scientists at UMass-Lowell.
Konarka has only $113,541 in cash remaining, according to a financial statement filed in bankruptcy court. That’s after paying out about $715,000 in severance to employees.
The company’s assets, which would help resolve some creditor claims, include hundreds of patents and patent applications along with a manufacturing plant in New Bedford.
Gary J. Remal contributed to this report.