Sustainable Energy

Why Solar Giant SunEdison Might Be Doomed

Once one of the biggest names in solar, the troubled energy company faces lawsuits, huge debts, and possible bankruptcy.

Shares of SunEdison were up more than 10 percent Tuesday after the cancellation of the solar giant’s disastrous acquisition of residential solar developer Vivint. The $2.2 billion deal fell apart after billionaire hedge fund manager David Tepper sued to block it—but the real cause was less Tepper’s objections and more SunEdison’s overall financial disarray.

Despite the bump in stock price, the troubled company, based in Saint Peters, Missouri, is far from turning itself around. SunEdison, which has seen $10 billion in market value evaporate over the last year, has been justifiably called “the biggest corporate implosion in U.S. solar history,” as its strategy of acquiring seemingly every solar power company in sight hasn’t panned out. Under CEO Ahmad Chatila, the company has spent billions to acquire solar developers around the world, piling up nearly $12 billion in debt.

The company’s complex financial structure is only making matters worse. In 2014 SunEdison created a pair of “yieldcos”—publicly traded subsidiaries created to own completed solar projects. Yieldcos have become a favored structure for big solar companies because of the tax benefits and cash flow they provide, but at least in SunEdison’s case, Wall Street has soured on the strategy. The crash in its stock left SunEdison unable to shoulder the Vivint purchase or to complete other signed deals.

Now the company almost certainly faces a lawsuit from Vivint. It’s already being sued by Latin America Power, which it agreed to purchase for $733 million, and it faces millions of dollars in penalties for last month’s cancellation of planned solar projects for Hawaiian Electric.

The company has also delayed its 2015 earnings report while it conducts an internal investigation into the accuracy of its financial disclosures. In a statement, the company said that inquiry could cause the company to “reassess its liquidity position.” In other words, SunEdison, once the world’s largest developer of renewable energy projects (and No. 6 on MIT Technology Review’s 2015 list of 50 smartest companies), could file for bankruptcy very soon.

(Read more: Reuters, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal)