Abound Solar founder: Election-year politics led to woes

John Hill, the founding chairman of Abound Solar Inc., blames election-year politics on his company’s bankruptcy.

“This was the most noble mission of my entire life,” Hill told MarketWatch’s Al Lewis. “We literally could have changed world energy markets with this technology.”

The U.S. Department of Energy withdrew its $400 million loan guarantee when Abound Solar was mislabeled as “another Solyndra,” Hill contends.

Hill’s claim stands in contrast to Abound Solar’s testimony during a congressional hearing that it failed because of Chinese government support of its own manufacturers, who were, in turn, able to inundate the market with cheaper solar panels.

Abound Solar had drawn down $70 million of the DOE’s loan guarantee. The agency halted disbursements on the loan in September after the company failed to meet some financial milestones built into the loan agreement.

Hill contends it had nothing to do with milestones. The conditions were so numerous, he said, that they were impossible to meet; they existed as an “out clause” and typically waived – until Solyndra nosedived.

“After Solyndra, the Department of Energy was balking and not releasing any more money under the loan guarantee because they didn’t want to be embarrassed in an election year,” Hill told Lewis.

The exact nature of those conditions remains unknown because the energy department declined to release the agreement to the Business Report. It is known, however, that taxpayers will lose $40 million to $60 million.

Vista Solutions enters Internet service provider foray

Vista Solutions of Fort Collins recently began selling Internet access to a handful of customers at the business park on Midpoint Drive – at least until larger ISPs catch on.

The information technology engineering firm has traditionally focused on helping clients protect and manage their enterprise data. It rolled out a cloud computing platform last year that charges businesses a monthly fee to do their computing over the web, freeing them from having to manage their own hardware.

In addition to the so-called Our Green Cloud service, the company has set up wireless antenna arrays to provide internet speeds of 30 megabits per second to a few area businesses. Those clients normally would have to rely on slower T1 connections of 1.5 megabits per second through phone lines.

Vista was able to do so because telecommunications giants have not yet installed cable line to the park, Vista Solutions COO Tim Cordodor said.

“We decided to go wireless because we don’t have to dig any trenches, and there’s not a tremendous amount of trees here that we have to shoot through,” he said. “So it’s been pretty easy to set up.”

It’s not a segment the company expects to play in too much longer. Larger companies eventually will learn that they are missing out on some customers and will offer more bandwidth at a lower cost than the service from Vista Solutions.

“The big boys will get jealous and come into this area,” Cordodor said. “For now we’re just filling the gap, which has been pretty well-received.”

Tech traffic signals cut commutes

Motorists can arrive at their destinations faster and save fuel thanks to some new technology now helping control signals along 10th Street between 23rd and 59th avenues in Greeley.

The Colorado Department of Transportation and the City of Greeley installed what’s known as an “adaptive” traffic signal control system in an effort to improve signal timing and travel times along the busy corridor, which sees 30,000 vehicles daily.

Installed in April, the new system has cut travel times by at least 9 percent through each light in the corridor. The lights also have reduced the number of vehicle stops by upwards of 37 percent.

Fuel consumption has decreased 4 percent, which the transportation department said contributes to a total savings by motorists of $1.3 million annually.

How does the technology work? Sensors gather real-time data at each intersection so that signal timing constantly changes at any moment to accommodate traffic patterns.

The signals communicate with one another to create as many green lights as possible for drivers in what the transportation department calls a “green tunnel.” That means that when vehicles approach an intersection, they may not need to stop before the signals detect their presence and change to green.

Several cities nationwide have installed these advanced systems, but only Greeley and Woodland Park have done so in Colorado.

Steve Lynn covers technology for the Northern Colorado Business Report. He can be reached at 970-323-3147, slynn@ncbr.com or twitter.com/SteveLynnNCBR

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