August 29, 2012 in Business

Solyndra’s glass tubes find new life as art in Berkeley

Dana Hull McClatchy-Tribune

Rachel Dent and son, Sam Cope, 10, of Berkeley, Calif., look at a sculpture created by Ronald Rael, UC Berkeley assistant professor of architecture, and Virginia San Fratello from glass tubes from former solar power company Solyndra at UC Berkeley.
(Full-size photo)

When solar manufacturer Solyndra Inc. filed for bankruptcy last year, thousands of employees were let go, dozens of vendors were left high and dry, hundreds of millions of dollars were lost – and millions of glass tubes were abandoned in a San Jose, Calif., warehouse.

Now some of those tubes have found a second life as modern art. Yet like so much about Solyndra, they’ve become another flash point in the controversy surrounding the Fremont, Calif., company.

Oakland architects Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello used 1,368 of the glass tubes to create “SOL Grotto,” an architectural sculpture on display in the lush grounds of the University of California Botanical Garden in Berkeley.

But SOL Grotto has generated the most publicity as the source of a fresh wave of criticism by conservative commentators and House Republicans, who have long held up Solyndra, which had been awarded a $535 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy, as a prime example of wasteful spending by the Obama administration.

Rael got the glass tubes from JIT Transportation, a San Jose company that had a contract with Solyndra to transport and store the tubes. When Solyndra filed for bankruptcy, the company was stuck with about 8 million tubes, as well as a hefty, unpaid invoice.

“Solyndra owes us about $300,000 for the cost of storing the materials, and they never paid us a penny,” said Gene Ashley, president of JIT.

Ashley spent weeks on the phone with bankruptcy attorneys, trying to figure out what to do with all the tubes. He was ultimately told that they had no value and that they were now his responsibility.

So Ashley put out the word to local and national glass artists. When Rael said he wanted some, Ashley was thrilled.

“A while back the TV news did a segment on Solyndra where they showed all of these glass tubes being dumped in a dumpster,” said Ashley. “That really frustrated me. I want people to make some use of it. Luckily Ron and a few others have tried to put it to good use.”

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