Struggling wind energy firm AMSC lays off 100 more

Source: By Erin Ailworth, Boston GLOBE • Posted: Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Devens technology company embroiled in several intellectual property theft lawsuits in China said it has cut its staff significantly again, this time blaming a slowdown in the wind energy industry it helps supply.

On Wednesday, AMSC — formerly known as American Superconductor — said it laid off about 25 percent of its workforce, or an estimated 100 employees. The company now has 340 workers worldwide, down from a peak of about 800 in 2011.

As part of the layoffs, AMSC said it terminated two executives.

An AMSC spokeswoman declined to comment beyond a statement released by the firm, which makes electrical control systems for wind turbines. In that statement, AMSC chief executive Daniel P. McGahn said “challenging” conditions in the wind sector have hurt the company’s growth plans, particularly for a business unit known as Windtec Solutions, which designs turbines and related technologies

“Financing and cash flow among wind farm developers and wind turbine manufacturers have been constrained,” McGahn said. “Given this environment, we made the difficult but prudent decision to reduce our workforce in order to weather the industry downturn and minimize our cash usage.”

AMSC estimates that Wednesday’s workforce cuts, combined with a consolidation of the firm’s office locations, will reduce the company’s annual expenditures by $10 million. AMSC said it expected to incur restructuring costs of $3 million to $4 million over the next two quarters — at least half of which would be related to severance costs.

The company reported $20.9 million in revenue for the second quarter of fiscal 2012, up slightly from $20.8 million in the period last year. AMSC’s net loss for the second quarter was $15.9 million. AMSC’s stock dropped 23 cents Wednesday, closing at $2.54 a share.

This is the third time since August 2011 that the company has been forced to lay off workers. AMSC cut 150 jobs that month, shortly after it began to suspect that its once largest customer, turbine maker Sinovel Wind Group of Beijing, had stolen the Devens firm’s wind turbine control technology. An engineer working as part of AMSC’s Windtec team in Austria was later sentenced to a year in jail for stealing the company’s software and giving it to Sinovel.

Soon after, AMSC filed several lawsuits in Chinese court and before an arbitration group, seeking more than $1.2 billion in damages and payments from Sinovel. None of the cases have been resolved

AMSC also reduced its staff in November 2o11, saying it needed to conserve cash as it worked to return to profitability after its troubles with Sinovel. The Chinese wind turbine maker once accounted for nearly 80 percent of AMSC’s revenues.