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Contractor offers $5.3M for defunct Idaho plant

Work halted this year on the Hoku Materials Inc. plant in Pocatello.

JH Kelly Inc. has offered $5.27 million for the defunct Hoku plant in Pocatello. File photo.

A Washington state-based contractor battling a Chinese company over a defunct $700 million polysilicon plant submitted the highest bid for the Pocatello property at a recent auction, a newspaper reported Nov. 6.

JH Kelly Inc. offered $5.27 million for the Hoku plant, beating another bid of $4.78 million, The Idaho State Journal reported.

JH Kelly, based in Longview, Wash., is suing Hoku’s Chinese parent company in federal court, alleging that Tianwei New Energy Holdings still owes it about $25 million for work done at the site.

The plant was nearly completed but never opened. Numerous contractors who helped build it have gone to court to collect money they say they are owed for work.

“We want to work with the city of Pocatello and the Bannock County Economic Development Commission to mitigate the sting of Hoku/Tianwei’s broken promises, help them attract a new user to the property and to recoup as much as we can of the monies that we are owed,” JH Kelly said in a release.

A federal trustee handling the Hoku bankruptcy case recommended the court accept the bid by JH Kelly. A decision is expected Nov. 12, though other bidders can submit bids through that date.

Celeste Miller, a bankruptcy attorney representing Hoku, told The Associated Press that the trustee has reported interest in the property from other potential bidders.

Consequently, just who winds up controlling the plant infrastructure may come down to the wire, Miller said.

Hoku began building what was supposed to be a $370 million plant in 2007, hoping to supply Chinese companies with materials for solar panels.

Eager Pocatello officials agreed to numerous financial concessions with the hope the plant would generate 200 full-time jobs for a region hard hit when chemical company FMC shuttered a nearby plant in 2001.

By 2009, however, polysilicon prices had plummeted, the cost of the Pocatello plant doubled, and Hoku was forced to hand over control to Tianwei as part of a financing deal with the Chinese company meant to save the project. That effort failed, too, and lawsuits piled up amid the bankruptcy.

Another subcontractor, North Carolina-based Industrial Piping Inc., said Hoku owes it $13.6 million. Industrial Piping also sued Tianwei.

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